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There’s lots of things I love about this healthy, homemade, oil free vegan popcorn.
Firstly, it’s super easy to make. Heat up a frying pan, chuck some kernels in, swish it around and voila.
Simple, easy, fast.
Secondly, it’s an incredibly healthy version of the usual salt-laden, butter-coated popcorn.
No oil or salt in sight for these perfectly air popped babies.
Just pure, puffed corn. Completely natural, healthy popcorn.
Thirdly, no greasy fingers.
For someone who loves to experiment in the kitchen, I’m surprisingly unkeen about having grubby fingers.
Maybe it’s good hygiene. Maybe it interferes with my finger food senses, who knows. But I do like to keep my hands clean.
So I love that I can grab a big fat handful of these babies and come away with mostly clean hands.
No oily residue. No salty crumbs. Wonderful.
Fourth, it’s vegan and a whole food. Nothing added, nothing taken away.
I used to think of popcorn as an unhealthy snack, but now I realise that’s because of all the junk that’s normally added.
Once I realised that it was possible to make whole food, oil free popcorn, I was sold on the idea.
Fifth. It’s such a convenient snack food.
It keeps really well, it’s easy to cart around, or pack in school lunches, and it’s popular with my kids.
What more could I ask?
Sixth. It tastes delicious.
I have to admit to eating this air popped wfpb popcorn by the handful.
It’s filling and tasty, without needing to add anything to it.
Why spoil something so tasty?
A big thank you to The Vegan Ronin for showing me that it was possible to make healthy popcorn.
And here’s my version of their recipe.
How to Make Popcorn Without Oil
Make sure to read the tips below the recipe to get the most out of this healthy fat free vegan popcorn recipe.
Healthy Oil Free Popcorn
- 2 tbsp popping corn kernels (40ml / 50g) *
- Heat a flat bottomed frying pan on medium heat (to about 390°F/200°C).
- Add corn kernels to pan, cover with lid and continue heating, shaking pan gently every 20-30s.
- Once kernels start popping, shake pan gently every 5-10s.
- As soon as popping slows down, turn heat off.
- Allow kernels to cool and serve.
- Before: -
- During: 10 mins
- After: 5 mins (to cool down)
- Need: Non-stick or cast-iron frying pan with a lid, stove
Notes* 1 tbsp = An Australian tablespoon, which is 20ml
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It also includes a handy Recipe Prep Checklist, to make sure you have everything you need on hand to get cooking.
And to help you make the most of this delicious recipe, I've also thrown in all of the super-handy tips and suggestions for variations.
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Tips for making healthy vegan popcorn
- Try to find organic popping corn kernels, and make sure they’re GMO-free as well, if you can manage it, to make your popcorn as healthy as possible.
- If you have a frying pan with a see-through glass lid, this makes it 100 times more fun to watch, especially for your kids. Either way, you’re going to want to use a lid. Trust me!
- Having a pot with a flat bottom makes is a lot easier to keep the kernels spread out evenly and heating through just right. But if all you have is a curved bottom pan, then give it a go and just keep your popcorn kernels moving. One of my readers recommends using a wok for more thorough popcorn popping, but I haven’t tried this myself (yet).
- Gently shaking (or swirling) the pan, by just lifting the pot off the stove briefly and moving it horizontally in circles, helps to heat the kernels evenly and reduces the chance of burning.
- The kernels will go a little brown as you heat them. This is perfectly normal, so don’t stress about it, just keep them moving.
- I used my hoovy-groovy infra-red thermometer to test the heat of my pan, and discovered that the ideal stove top temperature is around 200°C. If you don’t have one of these awesome kitchen gadgets (and I highly recommend them), then use the rate of popping to guide you.
- If the kernels are popping too slowly, you need to turn the heat up a bit. On the other hand, if your kernels start to burn (or blacken) too much, turn the heat on your stove down. A little bit of browning is OK. You can always throw away any burned pieces of popcorn afterwards.
- Make sure that you turn the stove heat off as soon as the popping slows down. I always feel the temptation to leave it for “just a little bit more”, but you don’t want to risk burning your perfectly air popped popcorn, so don’t leave the stove on any longer than that, OK?
- The corn will continue to pop after you take it off the heat, so leave the lid on and let it sit on the stove for a minute or so to avoid very hot pieces of popcorn flying across the kitchen (or at the kids). Yes, this has actually happened to me!
- I pick my popcorn out of the pan with tongs for two reasons:
- #1 – It’s hot
- #2 – It leaves the unpopped corn kernels in the pot, which can be really, REALLY bad for your teeth if you accidentally bite into one. Trust me, you don’t want to make this expensive mistake! So leave the unpopped popcorn behind and save your teeth!
- I like my popcorn kernels plain, but that doesn’t mean you have to. You can add toppings to your homemade oil free popcorn if you like (see below), but I suggest trying them plain first and seeing if you like them that way. Apparently plain popcorn also keeps for longer, which is a bonus.
- If you are going to add seasonings to your popcorn, or even some oil, the best time to this is while it’s still hot, and gives you something to do while your popcorn cools down enough to eat.
- Make sure you leave the popcorn to cool before eating. Using my awesome infra-red thermometer (can you tell I LOVE this kitchen gadget of mine?!) I discovered that they’re at about 60-70°C when you take them out of the pan, which is a sure-fire recipe for a burned mouth. Not good! So give the popcorn enough time to cool down before scoffing it down.
Air-popped popcorn variations
If you want to spice things up a bit and add some flavour and seasonings to your air-popped popcorn, here’s some ideas for good things to put on your popcorn to get you started:
- You could trying tossing them with some nutritional yeast flakes, curry, chili, salt, garlic powder or your favourite herbs and spices.
- Trying grinding up some of your favourite veggie chips in a spice grinder or food processor and tossing with your fresh popcorn.
- Spray your plain popcorn lightly with tamari, Braggs aminos or coconut aminos. This will add a salty flavour and also help your other seasonings to stick.
- You can make salt and vinegar popcorn by dissolving some salt into your favourite vinegar, and spraying or sprinkling this over the popcorn. Not too much though, or it will get soggy and very tangy!
- If you have some die-hard oil-loving popcorn fans in your house, you could split up your popcorn into batches and drizzle some melted coconut oil over their serving.
- Turn your oil free popcorn into a kind of trail mix by adding dried banana chips, pieces of your favourite raw vegan chocolate and a selection of activated nuts.
- Make a sugar-free sweet popcorn mix by grinding freeze-dried strawberries into a powder, and tossing it over your popcorn, along with some shredded coconut and a pinch of cinnamon.
If you’re having trouble getting your chosen seasonings to stick to your popcorn, try misting the popcorn lightly with a liquid (water, liquid aimnos), or grinding your salt and spices into a very fine powder.
If you’re happy to use oil but want to keep it to a minimum, you could also do what one of my readers did and use a cooking spray.
Popcorn seasoning recipes
Looking for more ideas to spice up your homemade popcorn?
Try out these seasoning recipes, designed for 2 cups of popped popcorn.
Nutritional Yeast Popcorn
- 1 tbsp nutritional yeast
- 1 tsp salt
Taco Popcorn Seasoning
- 1 tbsp taco seasoning
- 1 tbsp nutritional yeast
Coconut Curry Popcorn
- 1 tbsp shredded coconut
- 1 tsp curry powder
- 1 tsp ginger powder
Cinnamon Sugar Popcorn
- 2 tbsp fine sugar
- 1 tsp cinnamon
Garlic Herb Popcorn
- 2 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp mixed herbs
- 1 tbsp nutritional yeast
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp onion powder
- 1/2 tsp cumin
- Pinch paprika
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 tsp ground turmeric
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- Pinch chili powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
Find even more popcorn seasoning ideas here:
- DIY Popcorn Seasoning Blends @ She Knows
- Easy Homemade Popcorn Seasonings @ Live Eat Learn
- Flavored Popcorn Recipes @ Food Network
My oil-free popcorn budget
Here’s roughly how much this healthy vegan popcorn cost me to make:
|Popping corn kernels||2 tbsp (50g)||$4.95 / 500g bag||$0.50|
|TOTAL||50g||$9.90 / kg||$0.50|
- All prices are in Australian dollars
- Your costs may vary quite a bit depending on whether you buy in small or large quantities, as conventional or organic, and the time of year.
Reducing the cost of this recipe
- This fat free popcorn is actually pretty inexpensive to make. Some might even go so far as to say “ridiculously cheap”. In other words, it’s a quick, healthy and cheap snack. Win, win, win!
- With the only ingredient being popcorn kernels, the only way to make this recipe cheaper is to buy cheaper popping corn (i.e. conventional vs organic, or in bulk) but make sure it’s still good quality popcorn.
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FAQs about healthy popcorn without oil
- How is popcorn made?
- What’s the best oil for popcorn?
- Do you need oil to pop popcorn?
- Is oil actually that bad for you?
- How to pop popcorn without a microwave
- How to make oil free popcorn in an air popper
- How to cook popcorn in a pressure cooker
- How to pop popcorn in a Dutch oven
- How to pop popcorn in an air fryer
- Will popping popcorn without oil damage my non-stick frypan?
- Are non-stick frying pans safe to use?
- Is popcorn vegan?
- Is popcorn healthy?
- Air popped popcorn: Nutrition & calories
- What is the healthiest popcorn?
- How to make seasoning stick to popcorn without oil
- Do popcorn kernels go bad?
- Why aren’t most of my corn kernels popping?
- Popcorn substitutes
How is popcorn made?
Popcorn is made from whole corn kernels that have been dried and then heated.
This means that plain popcorn is actually a wholefood plant-based (wfpb) food, because it uses the entire kernel of corn, without any kind of refinement or processing, apart from being dried and heated.
The kernels that go into making popcorn are from a specific variety of corn that pops this way – other types of corn don’t turn into popcorn in the same way.
To turn popping corn kernels into popcorn, they are first dried to a 14-15% moisture level, and then cleaned and polished, ready for general use.
The “popping” of popcorn comes from the remaining moisture that is trapped within the corn kernel, once the internal temperature of the kernel reaches above 400°F/200°C.
As the kernel heats up, the trapped moisture turns to steam, building up pressure inside the kernel.
The heating of the kernel also makes the starch inside the kernel become soft, and once the pressure builds up enough, the coating on the kernel bursts.
As the corn kernel pops, the soft starch spills out, puffs up and cooks to form the white fluffy outside of the popped piece of popcorn, while the browny-yellow shell of the kernel remains in the middle of the popcorn.
Popcorn is actually an inside-out corn kernel!
There are a few different methods for popping popcorn, including air popping, stovetop popping and microwaving (see below), but they all basically heat the kernels until the trapped moisture causes the kernel to explode.
Sometimes oil, seasonings and other dressings are added to popcorn to add flavour. Popular popcorn flavours include cheese, salt & vinegar, butter, caramel and salt.
What’s the best oil for popcorn?
Although oil is not required for popcorn, it is used by many people as part of the popping process, both domestically and commercially.
Oil can help ensure that the corn kernels heat up evenly, and also can add flavour to the finished snack.
The best oils to use for popping corn are those that can handle being heated to above 400°F/200°C, and that are also good for you.
Many common oils can only go above this temperature after they’re refined, so keep this in mind when choosing an oil.
I prefer to use unrefined, extra virgin oils in my kitchen, so I tend to stick with coconut oil and olive oil.
Cooking Oils for Popcorn
Coconut Oil: If I’m going to use oil on my popcorn, this my oil of choice. Extra virgin coconut oil copes with being heated to about 350°F/180°C without smoking, so it’s not ideal for popping popcorn, but tastes great on it if you add it afterwards. Cinemas may also use a highly refined version of coconut oil on their popcorn.
Olive Oil: Extra virgin olive oil will start to smoke at around 320°F/160°C, so it’s worse than coconut oil for popping popcorn, However, if you choose a refined or light olive oil, then it generally will cope up to around 410°F/210°C without smoking, making it suitable for popcorn.
Almond Oil: This oil starts to smoke around 430°F/220°C, and so may be better suited to popping popcorn safely, although it’s not nut-free and will add a nutty taste to your popcorn.
Grapeseed Oil: This oil has a relatively neutral taste and high smoke point of 420°F/215°C, making it a pretty good option for making popcorn.
Avocado Oil: Avocados produce an oil that has both a high level mono-unsautrated fats and one of the highest smoke points around, at 520°F/270°C. I haven’t tried cooking with it, as it can be a little more expensive, but I definitely want to try it. Make sure it’s not too processed.
Sunflower & Safflower Oil: These oils also have high smoke points, and may be suitable alternatives, although they can be refined, so watch out for this when choosing an oil.
Canola Oil: I don’t generally recommend using canola oil, as it’s usually refined and has a higher risk of coming from GMO sources, but it does have a neutral flavour.
So if you decide to use oil when making popcorn, here’s what to consider:
- How refined it is
- At what temperature it starts to smoke
- How healthy it is for your body
- How it will taste
Do you need oil to pop popcorn?
It might come as a surprise to learn that oil is not actually required to pop popcorn.
Because the key to popping popcorn is heating it enough to cause the kernel to explode, oil is not essential in the popping process.
There are a number of oil-free techniques that you can use to heat popping corn up enough to cause it to pop, including microwaving popcorn, air popper machines or even on your stove top, as per the above recipe.
There are two main reasons that people use oil to make popcorn.
Firstly, it helps to distribute the heat in the pan evenly, and heats up to the same temperature across the entire pan, meaning fewer unpopped kernels. It also heats up the kernels faster, as it coats the kernels and transfers the heat from the pan to corn more effectively than air.
And secondly, it’s an easy way to add flavour to popcorn, as you’re making it. Rather than trying to coat the popcorn with oil once it’s made, using oil to heat the corn kernels means that by the time they pop, they’re already coated in oil.
Using oil to pop popcorn, also means heating the oil to at least 400°F/200°C, which can be a little dangerous if a kernel escapes from the pot and flies across the room, as it can splash oil into the kitchen at the same time.
Oils can also degrade when heated too high, and this may turn your oil into something that’s not as healthy for your body, so make sure to choose the right oil if you decide to use it for popping popcorn.
And of course, there are those who believe that any extracted oils are not great for your health, preferring to get their fats naturally from wholefoods, and I lean towards this approach as much as possible.
So although there are some slight advantages to making popcorn with oil, it’s certainly not necessary and there are lots of great healthier and safer options.
Is oil actually that bad for you?
Well, the answer to this depends on the type of oil.
There are certain fats that our body needs, and we can’t function properly without them. So a diet that was totally lacking in fat would be very unhealthy indeed.
However, there are many fats in our diets today that are very bad for our health, because our body is not designed to use them, and these include trans or hydrogenated fats, highly refined and processed oils, and excess amounts of Omega 6 and polyunsaturated fats.
The best kinds of oils for our bodies are those that are cold-pressed, unrefined, from plants and high in saturated fats, monounsaturated fats and essential fatty acids, because these are the fats that our bodies need most to be healthy.
Oils that fall into this category are from coconuts, avocados and olives. Oils from hemp and flax seeds contain high levels of essential fatty acids and our bodies also need other essential fats (DHA and EPA) that can only be obtained in large enough amounts from seafood (e.g. salmon or sardines), seaweed or algae.
That said, our bodies don’t need massive amounts of oil, so if you do decide to use oil, then do it in moderation, and aim to get as much of it as possible from whole foods.
Personally, I don’t tend to use extracted oils much in my cooking these days. In fact I tend not to use anything that’s been extracted from the original food as much as possible.
Instead I prefer to eat whole foods that contain healthy fats in the form of avocados, hemp seeds, coconuts, nuts and flax seeds, and trust that my body will take what it needs from the foods that I eat.
How to pop popcorn without a microwave
If you don’t have a microwave, then there are plenty of alternative options for popping your popcorn.
I gave away my microwave years ago, and there’s maybe been two or three days in that time where I’ve missed it.
Happily, you can pop your popcorn without a microwave, using any of the following methods:
- In a lidded pot or frying pan on the stovetop (with or without oil)
- In an air popping machine
- In a pressure cooker / instant cooker
- In a dutch oven
- In an air fryer
My recipe above shows you how to cook popcorn on the stove without oil, and keep reading below to find out more about the options for non-microwave popcorn.
How to make oil free popcorn in an air popper
Air popper machines are relatively inexpensive kitchen gadgets that you can use to air pop popcorn with a minimum of effort and clean up.
Air poppers generally have a reservoir in the centre, that can hold about half a cup of popcorn kernels, which will turn into about 4 cups of popcorn.
Once you’ve added the kernels to the machine, you replace the cover, and switch the machine on, which proceeds to heat and spin and/or blow the kernels around until they start popping.
There’s usually a chute on one side of the machine that funnels the popcorn out of the machine, so make sure you have a heatproof bowl or container at the ready to catch the popped popcorn.
Once the popping slows down and is mostly finished, you can switch off the machine, and pick out any remaining popped kernels from the centre of the machine using tongs to avoid burning yourself.
You will also most likely see a number of unpopped kernels in the middle of the machine. These should be discarded as they aren’t suitable for the air popping machine.
You can proceed to add any seasonings to your fresh popcorn and enjoy!
How to cook popcorn in a pressure cooker
Did you know that you can also cook popcorn in a pressure cooker (or instant pot)?
Pressure cookers are designed to cook food faster at high temperatures by increasing the air pressure around the food.
In the case of popcorn, though, you don’t want to put the popcorn under pressure, as it is more likely to burn and generally doesn’t turn out as fluffy.
So using your instant cooker to pop popcorn ends up being very similar to using a pot of frying pan, and you’ll want to set it to a medium-high heat to achieve the required 395°F/200°C.
You can use oil to distribute the heat evenly, or you can try doing it oil free, and be sure to gently shake the cooker regularly to prevent the kernels from burning or heating unevenly.
If you’re using the matching lid from your pressure cooker, you can shake more vigorously, because the lid is securely attached. Otherwise, shake your pot more gently to reduce the chances that anything escapes accidentally (oil or popcorn).
Remove your pressure cooker from the heat as soon as the popping slows down noticeably, and pour your popcorn into a bowl.
I haven’t tried this method, as I’ve yet to add a pressure cooker to my collection of kitchen gadgets, so if you try this let me know how it goes.
How to pop popcorn in a Dutch oven
I was surprised to discover that you can also make popcorn in a Dutch oven, but when you think about how popcorn is made, it makes sense.
You’re heating up the kernels to the right temperature for them to explode, which really can be done so many different ways.
Again, most recipes for making popcorn in a Dutch oven use oil in the base of the Dutch oven to help distribute the heat and prevent the kernels from burning.
If you’re willing, it’s worth trying the oil-free approach, by ensuring that you shake the Dutch oven frequently to move the kernels around, although this may be challenging with a heavy cast iron oven.
Add ½ to ¾ cup popcorn to your Dutch oven, along with oil if you’re using it (1 tbsp+), and wait until you hear the corn popping.
Move the pot around if you can, or at least rotate it on the heat top minimise burning and remove it from the heat as soon as the popping stops.
You may end with a few burnt kernels and popcorn pieces, but don’t let that stop you from trying out this handy technique.
The cool thing about this method is that you can use it on the BBQ or campfire while you’re outdoors, giving you access to a quick and easy snack no matter where you are!
How to pop popcorn in an air fryer
You can also use an air fryer to cook popcorn, although it’s not the easiest or fastest method.
In this case, you’ll want to line the sides of the basket of your air fryer with foil to stop the popped kernels from escaping .
Set your machine to the ideal temperature for popping popcorn, which is around 395°F/200°C.
Most methods recommend spraying your kernels lightly with avocado or coconut oil, so if you want to make your popcorn oil free, then you might have to experiment with both methods.
Generally it will take from 10 to 15 minutes to pop all of your kernels, but you’ll want to check in on the progress every few minutes to make sure that they’re not burning.
Once the popping has mostly finished, empty the popcorn into a bowl and add any seasonings as required.
Some people who’ve tried this method have had issues with the popcorn flying around inside the air fryer and hitting or getting stuck in the heating element.
Others also used a foil pouch in their air fryer, although this can take longer, as the foil acts as a heat shield, and the puch may end up banging around in the air fryer.
So although this method can work, it’s probably not the best one, and best used as a fallback when you don’t have access to the other ways of making popcorn.
Will popping popcorn without oil damage my non-stick frypan?
The great news is that you can safely make oil free popcorn in your non-stick pan without damaging it.
This is because the temperature required to pop popcorn is generally less than the “high temperatures” that can damage the non-stick surface.
Using my handy-dandy infra-red thermometer I found that the ideal temperature for popping popcorn was around 190-200°C (375-390°F).
Any cooler than this, and they don’t pop well, and any hotter and they burn.
And fortunately this ideal temperature range is well below than the maximum recommended for non-stick surfaces, whether that’s a Teflon surface or a ceramic coated pan (which is what we choose to use).
These surfaces are generally damaged by high temperatures around 260-350°C or 500-650°F.
Are non-stick frying pans safe to use?
There seems to be evidence mounting that the non-stick surfaces in many fry pans are causing health issues for some people.
The main problem seems to be that small amounts of the non-stick surface are actually falling off, getting caught in the food, and being eaten, which introduces a foreign substance into the body and may cause inflammation.
Some of the problems with non-stick surface are made worse with high heat, but fortunately that’s not something that this recipe requires.
So if you’re trying to minimise the amount of toxins you’re adding into your body, which I highly recommend, then you’ll probably want to stay away from non-stick surfaces.
Fortunately there’s quite a few safer alternatives around these days, including ceramic-coated pans and well-seasoned cast iron pans, so you do have some viable alternatives.
Here’s a couple of good-quality options from Amazon to get you started:
- WearEver Nonstick Scratch-Resistant Ceramic Coating PTFE-PFOA-Cadmium Free Cookware
- Lodge Cast-Iron Skillet with Glass Lid
There’s also this great list of other non-toxic cookware brands for you to check out, along with some tips on what look for and what to avoid.
One of my readers also used a normal stainless steel frying pan with a lid, and another used a saucepan, and neither of them had any issues with the popcorn sticking. Apparently stove-top popcorn kettles can also work well without oil too.
Of course if you want to air pop popcorn without needing to add anything to it, or have a suitable frying pan, you could always buy an air popcorn popper instead.
Is popcorn vegan?
The plain popcorn made in the above recipe is most definitely vegan, because it’s made from 100% whole corn kernels.
And even if you choose to add seasonings like nutritional yeast, salt, curry powder or taco seasoning, they’re all still vegan and healthy.
If you want to add oil to your popcorn, be sure to use a plant-based oil like coconut, olive oil or avocado to keep your popcorn vegan.
And of course, if you add things like dairy cheese, bacon or milk chocolate to your popcorn, then it won’t be vegan any longer.
As for the popcorn you buy at the movies or the shops, it may be vegan, depending on what they’ve added to the popped corn kernels.
Things like salt, salt and vinegar or chili should be vegan, but cheese, sour cream and bacon flavours are unlikely to be vegan,
Ultimately, the best way to tell is to read the ingredients thoroughly, looking for things like milk powder, whey powder or butter that make the popcorn non-vegan.
And if you’re at the cinema, ask them for a list of ingredients for their popcorn just to be safe.
Is popcorn healthy?
The basis of popcorn is whole corn kernels, so in that regard, popcorn is actually quite healthy.
However, what can make popcorn unhealthy is all the things that are added to it.
If you’re making your own popcorn at home, you can control exactly what goes on your popcorn, from seasonings to oils to chocolate, and make it as healthy as you want it to be.
But if you’re buying pre-made popcorn, then you’ll need to take a close look at the nutritional panel to assess whether it’s healthy.
Some varieties of popcorn have ridiculously high levels of sugar or salt (or both), along with colours, flavours and additives to increase its shelf life.
Pre-made popcorn is also often made with sunflower or canola, or that dreaded, vague “vegetable oil”, which may not be the healthiest oils for you to be consuming.
I’m not saying that all food additives are bad, but just make sure you’re happy to be ingesting all of the ingredients listed before you decide to put that packet of popcorn in your shopping cart.
And given how easy it is to make your own popcorn, why would you ever need to buy it pre-packaged?
Air popped popcorn: Nutrition & calories
If you air pop your popcorn, without using oil, you’re eating whole grain corn kernels so the nutrition and calories are pretty easy to figure out.
If you make a batch of popcorn using two tablespoons of kernels (50g), which turns into 2 cups of popcorn, and you end up eating 1 cup in a sitting (or a half of it), then you’ll get (approximately):
- Calories: 90-100
- Fat: 2g (saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated)
- Carbohydrates: 16-18g
- Fiber: 3-5g
- Protein: 3-4g
The figures are not exact because it depends on the brand of popping corn and how it has been stored, processed and prepared.
However, you can see from this that air popped popcorn is low calorie and also provides a good amount of fibre and protein.
Popping corn kernels also contain folate, phosphorus, magnesium, iron and trace amounts of other minerals and vitamins.
So plain popcorn is low in calories, most of which come from carbohydrates, and is a healthy plant-based snack.
What is the healthiest popcorn?
There’s only one variety of popping corn, which provides use with all of our popcorn, so there’s very little variation in the basic nutrients in the corn kernels.
The healthiest type of popped popcorn is plain popcorn, that has been popped without oil, and does not have any flavours or seasonings added.
This ensures that calories are kept to a minimum and that the popcorn is not excessively high in salt or sugar.
Not all oils are created equal, and heating oil can affect its properties, so popcorn that has been popped in oil may not be as healthy for you as plain oil-free popcorn.
Adding small amounts of spices will not change the nutrition profile of popcorn significantly, but take care not to go overboard with the seasonings.
So just aim to keep your popcorn as simple as possible to maximise the healthiness of it.
How to make seasoning stick to popcorn without oil
There are two main ways to get seasoning to stick to popcorn without using oil:
- Use a liquid
- Grind your seasonings finely
1. Use a liquid
Making your popcorn damp can help your seasonings stick to it more effectively.
You can use:
- Soy sauce, tamari, Braggs aminos or coconut aminos
- Vegetable stock
A light misting of one of these over your popcorn will give the seasonings something to hang onto and make them stick a little better.
But with any of these liquids, you’ll want to spray your popcorn VERY lightly, otherwise your popcorn will get soggy and not very appealing.
2. Grind your seasonings
One of the main reasons that seasonings don’t stick well to popcorn is that they’re simply too big and chunky to grab on, and gravity works its magic on makes them fall off into the bowl instead.
To give your seasonings the best possible chance of sticking to your popcorn, trying putting them into a coffee or spice grinder and grinding them into a fine powder.
When the flavours are in super fine particles, it will be much easier for them to stick to your popcorn. Give it a try!
If you’re not against using oil on your popcorn, you could also do what one of my readers did, and use a small amount of cooking oil spready.
Do popcorn kernels go bad?
Like all natural food products, it is possible for popping corn kernels to go bad, sort of.
Dry popcorn kernels keep well for a long time (a year or two), but eventually they will dry out, which means that they simply won’t pop, as the moisture inside them is required to cause the popcorn explosion. They’re not “bad” as such, but are basically not very useful as popping corn.
You can try to restore them by adding them to a sealed jar with a small amount of water and leaving them for a few days. This should increase the popping rate somewhat. Just don’t put so much water in there they go mouldy!
The kernels in microwave popcorn can also become stale, drying out and refusing to pop, after a couple of months. But also keep in mind that they’re covered in oil, which will go rancid faster than the kernels will dry out, so if they smell weird, skip them entirely and throw them out.
Popped popcorn has a reasonably short shelf life, drying out and losing flavour in a matter of weeks, so it’s best eaten soon after popping, and be sure to store it in an air-tight container in the meantime.
Why aren’t most of my corn kernels popping?
The first reason for this could be that the temperature of your pan is too low.
I have found, using my super handy infra-red thermometer, that the ideal surface temperature is around 390°F/200°C.
Usually this is the temperature where the popcorn kernels will start to brown a bit, but they don’t tend to burn before they pop.
So play with your heat settings a little to see if this helps.
The other reason why your kernels may not be popping is that they are too old.
The older your popping corn gets, the more unpopped kernels you will have in a batch of popcorn, and the effect is magnified when you don’t use oil.
This happens because the “pop” in popcorn results from a small amount of moisture trapped inside the kernels, so the older it is, the greater the risk that the kernel has dried out completely, leaving no water inside to create the “pop”.
So check the expiry date on your corn kernels and if they’re past the date, you can still use them, but they just might not pop as well.
Any kernels that don’t pop can be composted, so nothing goes to waste!
Although there’s nothing that “pops” quite like popcorn, if you’re looking for a substitute for popcorn, there are some tasty, healthy alternatives.
There are some grains that will pop in a similar way to popping corn, giving you a close approximation:
With all of these you can use the oil-free stove top method to pop them. Just make sure not to use too much at once, and keep the grains moving to avoid burning.
Once they’re popped, you can add flavours and seasonings to them as you would for regular popcorn.
And if you’re just looking to replace popcorn as a snack food, here are some suggestions for healthy vegan snack substitutes for popcorn:
- Cauliflower popcorn – oven baked or dehydrated
- Kale chips
- Mixed seeds & nuts
- Nori / seaweed chips
- Apple chips
Have fun experimenting with all of these alternatives to popcorn!
My inspiration for making healthy popcorn
I was at an information session for my 4yo daughter’s school transition program, and popcorn was on the list of suggested healthy snacks for school, which sounded like a great idea.
I haven’t made popcorn for years, and the last time I made it I used oil in the frying pan to help the corn kernels heat up.
But I wanted a healthier version of popcorn to keep inline with my generally healthy wholefood approach to food, so I went searching for oil free popcorn and came across a great recipe by The Vegan Ronin.
It was the best of the healthy popcorn recipes that I came across, so I pretty much followed their process, and it turned out really well.
I was actually surprised at how easy and low-fuss it was. Not to mention delicious.
And it’s so much fun for the kids to watch as well. Trust me!
Definitely worth giving it a try.
Air-popped popcorn resources
Here’s an interesting perspective from Matt Frazier, the No-Meat Athlete, on why he stopped using oil:
- Why I’ve Finally Stopped Eating Oil @ No Meat Athlete
And a handy guide to the smoke point of oils, if you plan to use one with your popcorn:
- Cooking with Oils – Know their ‘Smoke Points’ @ Healthy, Wealthy & Wiser
This is a useful explanation of how to keep popcorn fresh and what happens when it goes “bad”
- Can Popcorn Go Bad? @ Does it Go Bad?
And some insights into the hazards of non-stick pans and your alternatives
- Dangers of Nonstick Cookware that Shouldn’t be Ignored @ Everyday Eco Living
Here’s a great article on the science of popcorn popping:
- From Seed to Snack @ The Popcorn Board
And some ideas for popcorn substitutes:
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