The snack of choice for many cinema goers and an increasing number of health-conscious consumers, popcorn is made by heating a particular variety of corn kernel (called popcorn). Each kernel (or seed) contains a small amount of water, and when heated this water turns to steam, increases the pressure inside the shell and the kernel eventually “pops” into the fluffy snack we all know and love.
It’s really that simple: take some popcorn kernels and apply some heat. And, that means that popcorn is indeed a snack that vegans can get stuck into without any qualms… usually.
How to Make Vegan-Friendly Popcorn
As long as the kernels you purchase are free of any non-vegan additives (and most will come without any additives at all), you are in control of your popcorn.
Luckily, for those seeking to ensure their popcorn is perfectly vegan friendly, it is easy and cheap to purchase popcorn kernels and then to cook them as you see fit. In fact, doing things this way is much cheaper than even the cheapest alternative and also gives you total control over what is added. Here are some of the options of how to get your vegan-friendly popcorn popping:
Making Popcorn on the Stove
When it comes to making popcorn on the stove, you can either use oil or you can simply air pop the kernels for a healthier version.
Heat in Oil
There are loads of vegan-friendly cooking oils on the market so you can take your pick of your favourites. When making popcorn we tend to opt for coconut oil when making sweet popcorn, and olive oil or canola oil when planning to add savoury flavours.
- Turn your stovetop to a medium heat, add the oil of your choosing in a heavy bottomed pan and add three tester kernels (leaving the lid off).
- Once your tester kernels have popped, add the rest of your kernels in an even layer and close the lid.
- Turn off the heat for about 20 seconds or until you start to hear popping.
- Turn the heat back up (ensuring the lid is on!) and give the pan a shake every now and again (so nothing burns).
- When the popping sounds like it’s coming to an end, turn off the heat, remove the lid, top with your favourite seasonings, and enjoy!
Air Popped Popcorn
If you would rather not use oil for any reason, fear not, you can simply heat it without any oil. As long as you don’t ramp up the heat too fiercely, and you don’t leave the pan on the heat for too long once almost all the kernels have popped, you can simply pop your popcorn in a dry pan.
This is the healthiest option of them all and is great for both sweet and savoury picks, as well as au naturel!
Microwave popcorn dates to the 1940s but it was not until the 1980s that it really became very popular and the first modern “bag” for the product was patented in 1981. History aside, by and large, microwave popcorn is just about as vegan as any other type. By that, we mean it is subject to the same caveats: check how it is cooked and what it is topped with.
Certain toppings will obviously render the product non-vegan but microwave popcorn tends to come in more limited flavours anyway. As ever, check the packaging for a vegan-friendly label, or take a look at the ingredients. Palm oil may be used and whether palm oil is vegan or not is a complex issue but many vegans may prefer to give such corn a miss in any case.
In addition to the issue of palm oil, microwave popcorn has also been criticised for the chemicals used to create the special bags. The coatings that make the bags oil- and moisture-resistant have been found to contain perfluorinated compounds (PFCs), which are toxic. These can potentially contaminate water, air and soil and also make the bags very slow to biodegrade. The bags are also extremely difficult to recycle.
However, it is possible to make your own microwave popcorn, which makes it easy to avoid using palm oil, non-vegan products and the PFCs mentioned above. Simply add raw, unpopped kernels into a microwave-safe bowl (any microwavable container will work), cover with a vented lid and cook away. You can use anything to cover the bowl really, as long as it keeps enough steam in the container whilst also not being completely airtight.
As with other home-cooking methods, you can pop the corn in oil or keep things really healthy by simply letting the heat do the cooking. And again, once the corn is popped and ready to go, you can choose exactly what to top it with.
Ingredients to Avoid
There are two things that might stop popcorn being vegan-friendly:
- Cooked in Butter or Animal-Derived Oil: Contrary to popular belief, there is no reason popcorn kernels must be heated in oil or butter in order to “pop” (as detailed below). Some people prefer the flavour of popcorn that has been made using butter or oil but other vegan-friendly alternatives can be used.
- Animal Products Are Added Once Cooked: Non-vegan flavourings and toppings of all sorts (from cheese to chocolate to drizzled butter toffee) are often added to popcorn. If you are making it yourself, there are plenty of vegan-friendly popcorn toppings (see below), though if buying popcorn, vegans should check the label or ask the vendor about what has been added.
Store Bought Vegan-Friendly Popcorn
The good news is that if you are buying popcorn, many brands of ready-popped popcorn (that is the stuff that comes in packets like crisps) make it obvious if they are vegan-friendly. Many of the leading popcorn brands in the UK, including Tyrrells, Metcalfe’s and Propercorn, have made a point of creating popcorn that is suitable for vegans.
Unfortunately for vegans though, especially those on a budget who can’t afford the luxury brands above, the UK’s best-selling popcorn brand, Butterkist, is not vegan friendly. They rather vaguely state that, “All of our popcorn products are suitable for vegetarians. However, all our range may contain milk and is therefore unsuitable for vegans”. We are hopeful they will get their act together before too long though.
Vegan-Friendly Popcorn Flavours & Toppings
Whether you choose to make your own popcorn or buy it pre-popped and bagged up, there are many vegan-friendly popcorn flavours to enjoy. With a bit of experimentation you can no doubt invent plenty of your own too! Here are some of our current favourites:
|Flavour||Who Makes It?||Info|
|Peanut Butter & Almond||Propercorn||One of the more imaginative vegan-friendly popcorn flavours out there, and one that really hits the spot for us. The inclusion of ground peanuts and ground almonds up the protein content to 12.9g/100g too!|
|Sea Salted||Tyrrell’s||A classic savoury popcorn flavour, but this version from Tyrrell’s is just a cut above most.|
|Sun-Dried Tomato & Chilli||Propercorn||Another savoury flavour from Propercorn that pushes the boat out a little – and very tasty it is too!|
|Agave Nectar & Cinnamon||Make It Yourself||Those seeking something a little sweeter could do worse than this DIY combo.|
|Maple Syrup & Coconut||Make It Yourself||Another DIY option for vegans with a sweet tooth. Heat the kernels in coconut oil to pop in some extra flavour.|
|Smoked Paprika & Salt||Make It Yourself||Once your corn is popped, just dust over a little smoky paprika and salt.|
|Chili & Lime||Make It Yourself||If you like it zingy, add lime zest and fresh or dried chillies to a dairy-free “butter” and coat your corn.|
As well as being darn tasty, popcorn actually isn’t too bad for you. In its natural form (that is, before any flavourings or toppings are added), air-popped popcorn is gluten free. According to the United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service, it is also relatively high in fibre (14.5g/100g) and protein (12.94g/100g), and low in sugar (less than 1g/100g) and saturated fat (less than 5g/100g). This compares favourably to most crisps, which are lower in fibre and protein and substantially higher in saturated fat. Moreover, popcorn is 100% whole grain, so if you’re looking for a healthy vegan snack it’s a real winner.
Essentially you can make your popcorn as healthy (or unhealthy) as you like, based on how you cook it and what you add to it. So, order your next batch of popcorn kernels, get imaginative and create some tasty, vegan-friendly popcorn flavours of your own! And, if they are really tasty, please be sure to share them with us!