Is Popcorn Vegan? (Here’s Everything You Need To Know)

When I think of popcorns, I reminisce about standing in line at the movie theater’s entrance gate and smelling the heavenly flavor of popcorns, while anxiously anticipating that first mouthful right before the ads roll in.

Let me just say it: popcorn is the best snack of all time, but is it vegan?

Popcorn is vegan. If you think about it, popcorn is essentially a type of corn kernel that is heated till it pops, resulting in crispy and crunchy popcorn. What is not vegan are many of the flavorings added on top, namely butter, bacon, cheddar, honey, ranch, white chocolate, and others. 

In this article, I’m going to explain how popcorn gets made, and I’m also going to share with you recipes and brands of vegan popcorn, as well as vegan toppings you can add to make your popcorn more delicious.

How is Popcorn Made?

Popcorn grows on stalks like other corn and can be harvested in the same way.

However, to harvest high-quality popcorn, several precautions must be taken beforehand. For example, popcorn plants are different from field corn plants, so adjustments to the machinery must be made to avoid damaging the popcorn kernels during the harvesting and shelling process.

This is crucial because damage to a kernel’s pericarp reduces its ability to expand when popping, which makes for a bad product.

Once the corn is sorted and cleaned up, it’s dried to achieve the right moisture to provide the maximum expansion to the corn and is stored in a way the moisture isn’t altered.

This is quite specific, but popcorn is usually delivered to the respective companies/brands when it has between 13.5% and 14.5% moisture, which is optimal in most cases, even though it varies from hybrid to hybrid. It’s important to achieve the right balance so that the kernel can effectively pop.

Different Types of Popcorn

Even though there are several varieties of corn, the only corn capable of popping naturally is popcorn. Other types of corn can be puffed but they require special mechanical processes.

There are six types of corn that fall into two basic groups: Soft or Hard.

This can be determined by the amount of hard or soft starch contained in the corn kernel. The most common soft corn is dent corn which can be used to make baby powder, tortillas, breakfast cereal, cattle feed, and even ethanol which improves the performance of gasoline.

Other common types of soft corn are Sweet Corn and Flour Corn.

Popcorn falls under the category of hard corn or flint corn. It’s different than soft or commercial corn varieties in a couple of ways. First, it’s made up completely of hard starch. Secondly, it has a very hard pericarp that allows for the internal pressure and temperature to rise high enough to pop.

Popcorn today is usually made from two types of corn that are combined to achieve certain, desirable characteristics. That’s why you’re able to find varieties of popcorn (also referred to as hybrids) with different sizes, shapes, and textures.

Different varieties of popcorn include:

  • rice popcorn
  • pearl popcorn
  • yellow
  • white
  • black
  • blue
  • rainbow

Some of these are referred to as specialty gourmet popcorn.

Making Popcorn Pop

To make popcorn pop you need a delicate balance between moisture (which is typically ensured by the popcorn suppliers) and heat.

If you heat the kernel too quickly, the starch at the center of the kernel is not gelatinized and softened, so when the outer edge of the starch reaches the required temperature to causes the pericarp to rupture, the uncooked starch at the core of the kernel will be incapable of expanding.

You need to able to heat the kernel at a rate that is slow enough to cook the starch to its core before the pericarp (the outer layer) is ruptured and ready for expansion.

In other words, the kernels must be heated at the right temperature, and if you’re purchasing store-bought popcorn in the supermarket, that information should be carefully labeled.

With that being said, you now have three slightly distinct methods you can use to pop popcorn: Hot Oil, Hot Air, and Microwave Ovens.

Making Popcorn Pop with Hot Oil

This is probably the most common method used in concession stands and at home, at least before the invention of microwaves in 1964.

Popping corn in oil can be done using machinery, though the machinery is primarily used in the concession industry so the range of equipment is generally sized for a concession stand.

But if you’re at home and want to pop popcorn in oil, you can use a good, heavy-bottomed pot, place it on the stove, add oil, the store-bought kernels, and voilá. I know, it’s not that simple, but this recipe by “Cookie and Kate” is a pretty good place to get started.

Making Popcorn Pop with Hot Air

When popcorn is popped without the use of oil that method is referred to as air popping.

The first air poppers in existence were wire baskets that contained a small amount of popcorn and were held over a fire to pop. The process involved shaking the baskets rapidly to keep the corn from burning.

Nowadays you’ll find two types of dry popping machinery: batch dry poppers, and continuous dry poppers, which certainly require less handiwork to function.

If you’re someone that would like to avoid using oil to pop the popcorn, then allow me to suggest the Presto PopLite Hot Air Popper, which is a small, inexpensive equipment that relies on hot air to pop popcorn.

Making Popcorn Pop with Microwave Oven

Naturally, if you want to avoid the kernels at all costs and would rather have an easy and quick way to have popcorn, then putting a prepackaged popcorn bag in the oven (or microwave) is the way to go.

This is today’s predominant method of making popcorn at home.

How to Make Vegan Popcorn at Home

As I’ve just mentioned, to pop popcorn at home you can either use a pot (with oil), or you can purchase an air popper to do that without the use of oil.

Using an air popper doesn’t require much explanation since it does pretty much everything for you.

However, if you’re using a pot with oil, then there are specific ways to do it.

This recipe by “Cookie and Kate” shows you how to make the perfect stovetop popcorn, but you need to make sure you follow these 5 simple tips:

  1. Use a sturdy, heavy-bottomed pot
  2. Don’t get the heat up too high
  3. Start with two popcorn kernels to gauge/measure the temperature
  4. Slightly tip the lid while the popcorn is topping for crispiness
  5. If the popcorn starts overflowing remove the lid and tip the excess into a bowl, but get back to the popping process once that’s done
  6. Don’t go too heavy on the seasoning or flavoring.

stovetop popcorn

5 Vegan Popcorn Brands

If you don’t want to make popcorn at home, then you can always opt for a popcorn brand in-store, or in other words, popcorn that is ready to eat.

Here is a quick table with vegan popcorn brands and prices.

Vegan Popcorn Brand: Price:
Angie’s Vegan Salted Caramel Popcorn 12 Bags cost $39 on Amazon
Pop Art Popcorn Thai Coconut Curry 1 Bag cost $4.99 on Amazon
365 Everyday Value Organic Popcorn (Salted) 1 Bag cost $3 at Whole Foods
Pipcorn (Sea-Salt) 3 Bags cost $17.75 on Amazon
Skinny Pop Original Popcorn 30 Bags cost $13.92 on Amazon

Vegan Popcorn Flavors & Toppings

Indeed, most of the flavors and toppings added to popcorn are not vegan, but I’ve found through my research some alternatives that might be interesting.

Besides the plain salt or sugar-flavored popcorn, there are some unique flavors you can add, including:

  • Vegan Cheese Seasoning by Flavor God
  • Coconut Oil Butter by Dutchman’s
  • Bacon Seasoning by Deliciou

Not many people know of these flavors, but they’re awesome alternatives, especially if you wish to deviate from the mainstream sugar and salt.

Related Questions

Is Skinny Pop Popcorn Vegan?

According to Skinny Pop’s official website, there are 7 unique flavors: the plain original flavor, aged white cheddar, sea salt & pepper, white cheddar, sweet & salty kettle, real butter, and “twist of lime”.

Five of them are vegan, except the aged white cheddar, and real butter flavors. It’s surprising, but the regular white cheddar flavor is made with non-dairy cheese. 

Therefore, yes, most of their flavors are vegan.

Is AMC Popcorn Vegan?

According to Vegnews, the popcorn at AMC theaters is completely vegan. They pop popcorns using coconut oil, although I’m not sure if that’s applicable in every location.

Is Orville Redenbacher Popcorn Vegan?

Orville Redenbacher’s best selling popcorn contains real butter, however, you’re also able to find other flavors (or variations) that do not contain butter. One that comes to mind is the simply salted Naturals.

Is Smartfood Popcorn Vegan?

Smartfood Popcorn comes in seven different flavors, and six of them are not vegan. The only vegan-flavored popcorn is the Sweet and Salty Kettle Corn, which is a combination of sugar and salt.

Summary

Popcorn at its core is vegan, but you may come across certain popcorn that may be flavored with animal-based ingredients like butter, honey, or white cheddar.

To purchase vegan popcorn, you just have to ensure none of those flavors are included in the popcorn.

If you want to flavor your popcorn, you can either opt for salt or regular sugar, or you can even check out some of the vegan flavor suggestions I’ve provided you above.

Lastly, if you found this blog post useful, please share it with friends or family that may also find it useful!

Alexandre Valente

Hey there! My name is Alex and I've been vegan for more than five years! I've set up this blog because I'm really passionate about veganism and living a more eco-conscious life. Hopefully, I can use this website as a channel to help you out on your own journey!

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