What is the best oil for popcorn? If there's one thing that sparks a lively debate in the world of snacking, it's the question of which oil reigns supreme when it comes to making the perfect bowl of popcorn. As a popcorn-loving family, we take this matter seriously and find ourselves experimenting with various oils to achieve that ultimate crunchy and flavorful treat. While some people might love microwave popcorn, stovetop reigns supreme in our home.
There's nothing quite like the aroma of freshly popped popcorn filling the air as we gather together for movie nights or afternoon snacks.
Stovetop popcorn is a healthy snack that you can enjoy any time of day or night. I love it as it is a whole grain and you know how I feel about those. Whether you are making the popcorn for yourself or to enjoy with family and friends, let me teach you everything you need to know about choosing the best oil, and how I like to make it.
My favorite oils I use in my own home
Canola oil has always been my go-to choice, as it strikes a perfect balance between a mild taste and a healthier option with its low saturated fat content. While it may be up for debate among many health enthusiasts, I find that its neutral flavor allows the popcorn's natural taste to shine while providing a crispy and delicious result.
I also like using peanut oil for another good choice. Extracted from peanuts, it lends a nice nutty flavor that adds a twist to the classic popcorn. The higher smoke point of peanut oil ensures that the popcorn pops evenly and to a great crunch, creating an irresistible treat that keeps everyone coming back for more.
When I am feeling extra fancy, I love using clarified butter, also known as ghee. This infuses the popcorn with a rich, buttery flavor that evokes memories of classic movie theater popcorn. The process of removing milk solids from butter gives clarified butter a higher smoke point, allowing it to withstand the heat required for popping, resulting in a batch of popcorn that is velvety, aromatic, and so satisfying. If you are new to clarified butter, you can either buy it in the store as ghee, or you can make it at home. I will describe the process in detail below.
Coconut oil is another great choice. Its lightly buttery flavor and yummy aroma makes it the perfect choice for flavor and poppability (yes, my own word here).
Types of oil you CAN use for popping popcorn
There are a lot of different types of oils and fats to use for popcorn, let me explain a few to you.
- Canola oil: A popular and versatile cooking oil known for its mild flavor and low saturated fat content, making it a healthier option for popping popcorn.
- Vegetable oil: A blend of various plant-based oils with a neutral taste and high smoke point, making it suitable for high-temperature popcorn popping.
- Sunflower oil: Extracted from sunflower seeds, this oil has a light flavor and a high smoke point, making it ideal for achieving crispy popcorn.
- Extra virgin olive oil: A premium, unrefined olive oil with a robust flavor and numerous health benefits, adding a distinct and rich taste to popcorn. It does have a low smoke point though, which is a concern when popping popcorn.
- Peanut oil: Extracted from peanuts, this oil imparts a nutty flavor to popcorn, offering a unique and delicious twist.
- Ghee (clarified butter): A cooking fat made by separating milk solids from butter, providing a rich and buttery taste to popcorn.
- Pure coconut oil: Extracted from coconuts, this oil offers a distinct buttery flavor, reminiscent of classic movie theater popcorn.
How to pop popcorn on the stovetop
Homemade popcorn is so easy to make. Let me walk you through step-by-step. This will help you make the perfect popcorn the first time. I will also share these details in the recipe box at the bottom of the page.
- Choose your pot: Select a pot with a tight-fitting lid to prevent the popcorn from escaping while popping. A heavy-bottomed pot is ideal for even heat distribution and preventing burning.
- Add oil: Place the pot on the stovetop over medium heat. Add the oil of your choice—such as canola oil, peanut oil, or coconut oil—to the pot. Use enough oil to lightly coat the bottom of the pot.
- Heat the oil: Allow the oil to heat up for a minute or two. To check if it's hot enough, drop one or two popcorn kernels into the pot. When those kernels pop, the oil is ready.
- Add popcorn kernels: Once the oil is hot, add the popcorn kernels to the pot in a single layer. Swirl the pot to ensure the kernels are evenly coated with oil.
- Cover the pot: Put the lid on the pot, leaving it slightly ajar to allow steam to escape. This will prevent the popcorn from becoming soggy.
- Shake the pot: As the kernels begin to pop, shake the pot gently to prevent them from sticking to the bottom and ensure even popping.
- Listen for the popping: Listen for the popping sounds. Once the popping slows down to about 2-3 seconds between pops, turn off the heat.
- Let it rest: Keep the lid on the pot for an additional minute to allow any remaining unpopped kernels to pop.
- Season the popcorn: Carefully remove the lid, and your freshly popped popcorn is ready to be seasoned! You can add salt, melted butter, or your favorite toppings to suit your taste.
- Serve and enjoy: Transfer the popcorn to a large bowl, toss it with your chosen seasonings, and enjoy this classic and comforting snack.
How to make clarified butter
- Start with unsalted butter: Choose high-quality unsalted butter for making clarified butter. Salted butter can work too, but unsalted butter allows for better control of the final taste.
- Melt the butter: Cut the butter into small pieces to facilitate even melting. Place the butter in a saucepan or small pot over low to medium-low heat.
- Simmer the butter: Allow the butter to melt slowly without stirring. As the butter simmers, it will begin to separate into three layers: the foam on top, the clear butterfat in the middle, and the milk solids at the bottom.
- Skim the foam: Once the butter has completely melted, you'll notice foam forming on the surface. Use a spoon or a fine mesh skimmer to skim off the foam and discard it. This foam contains water and milk solids.
- Remove the butterfat: Carefully pour the clarified butter (the clear layer in the middle) into a heatproof container, leaving the milk solids at the bottom of the saucepan. You can use a ladle to separate the butterfat from the milk solids if necessary.
- Discard the milk solids: The milk solids that remain at the bottom of the saucepan can be discarded or used in other recipes, such as adding them to scrambled eggs for extra flavor.
- Strain the clarified butter (optional): To ensure the butter is entirely free of any remaining milk solids, you can strain it through a fine mesh strainer or a layer of cheesecloth.
- Cool and store: Allow the clarified butter to cool to room temperature before transferring it to an airtight container. Clarified butter can be stored at room temperature or in the refrigerator for several weeks.
You can also purchase ghee, which is an Indian clarified butter.
Should I salt the oil before popping popcorn in it?
It's generally not recommended to salt the oil before popping popcorn in it. Adding salt directly to the oil can lead to uneven distribution, resulting in some kernels being over-salted while others remain bland. Additionally, when salt is exposed to high heat during the popping process, it can cause the oil to splatter, which could be dangerous.
A better approach is to pop the popcorn first and then season it with salt and any other desired toppings afterward. Once the popcorn is ready, you can drizzle melted butter or sprinkle salt and other seasonings over the popped kernels, giving you more control over the flavor and ensuring a well-distributed and delicious seasoning.
If you prefer a more intense flavor, you can also mix melted butter or oil with your preferred seasoning in a separate bowl and then toss the freshly popped popcorn in the mixture. This will help the seasoning adhere evenly to the popcorn.
What oil do movie theaters use for popcorn?
A type of coconut oil is the preferred choice for popping popcorn in movie theaters. Its high smoke point allows for the efficient popping of large batches, while its unique buttery flavor enhances the taste, giving moviegoers that classic and irresistible popcorn experience they love. While other oils may also be used, coconut oil remains a popular and iconic option in many theaters, contributing to the beloved aroma and taste associated with a trip to the movies.
Ways to season your stovetop popcorn
- Classic Butter and Salt: Keep it simple and satisfying with melted butter and a sprinkle of salt. This timeless combination never goes out of style.
- Cheesy Popcorn: Toss the freshly popped popcorn with grated Parmesan or cheddar cheese for a savory and cheesy delight.
- Garlic and Herb: Mix in some garlic powder, dried herbs like oregano or thyme, and a pinch of salt for a flavorful and aromatic popcorn treat.
- Spicy Kick: Add a dash of cayenne pepper or chili powder to your popcorn for a spicy twist that packs a punch.
- Everything Bagel Seasoning: Embrace the popular seasoning blend with sesame seeds, poppy seeds, dried onion, garlic flakes, and salt for a unique and tasty popcorn experience.
- Caramel Drizzle: Drizzle warm caramel sauce over the popcorn and toss it gently for a sweet and indulgent treat.
- Cinnamon Sugar: Combine cinnamon and sugar, then sprinkle it over the popcorn for a cozy and comforting flavor reminiscent of churros.
- Ranch Popcorn: Mix popcorn with a packet of ranch seasoning for a tangy and savory ranch-flavored delight.
- Truffle Oil: Drizzle a small amount of truffle oil over the popcorn for a luxurious and sophisticated flavor.
- Chocolate Delight: Melt chocolate chips and drizzle them over the popcorn for a delectable sweet and salty combination.
How to make stovetop popcorn
- 1 Large stockpot
- ¼ cup oil of choice You can find all your options in the recipe post. I love using canola oil, coconut oil, or clarified butter in mine.
- ¾ cup popcorn kernels
- salt optional
- melted butter optional
- Add your oil and a few kernels to the pan. Cover and cook over medium heat.
- Watch for the kernels to pop, this will take a few minutes.
- Once they have popped, remove from heat and quickly and catefully remove the kernels.
- Add in the rest of the kernels. Cover for just a few minutes, then open the lid slightly while it finished popping. This prevents the lid from gathering steam and getting the popcorn wet.
- Cook until you hear the popping slow down about 1 pop every few seconds.
- Remove from the heat and immediately pour into your bowl.
- At this point, you can serve it like it is, or pour over 2 tablespoons of melted butter and sprinkle of salt. Mix well.