Popcorn can be a healthful snack that is low in calories and chock full of nutrients, including fiber. But not all popcorn is alike. That extra-large tub of heavily buttered popcorn from your local movie theater will not offer such health benefits. In fact, a medium tub at Regal—the country’s biggest movie theater chain—has 1,200 calories and 60 grams of saturated fat, according to a recent report from the Center for Science in the Public Interest. So much for low calorie!
Other problems surrounding popcorn are the nasty culprits known as genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. Studies have shown GM foods to cause allergies in some people, and a more recent study showed that GE (genetically engineered) foods may have detrimental effects on immune function. The majority of GM foods end up in processed foods, which can make avoiding them difficult—especially for corn. Corn is one of the five most-common GM crops (beet sugar, canola, soy and cotton are the other crops), as it’s estimated that 90 percent of the corn grown in the U.S. is from genetically modified seed.
To help you healthfully get your popcorn fix, we’ve taste-tested a wide variety of natural popcorn and selected six of our favorites. Whether you’re a stovetop purist, prefer the ease of microwavable bags, or simply want a bag of pre-popped corn for traveling purposes, we’ve got you covered. Hit play on your DVR, grab a blanket and cozy up on the sofa with a bowl of popcorn from one of these popcorn companies.
Best old-fashioned popcorn: Many microwaveable bags of popcorn are loaded with partially hydrogenated oils and artificial flavorings. Ditch the microwave and embrace the superior flavor of air-popped popcorn. Using a store-bought popcorn machine or simply your stovetop, preparing these kernels is easier than it may seem: here is a great instructional article. We recommend swapping peanut oil with flax seed or coconut oil, and adding in a little sea salt. These GMO-free popcorn kernels from one of our favorite companies pop evenly and are fresh tasting. Best of all, it has a high nutrition score of 10 from GoodGuide, an organization that rates hundreds of companies on their health, sustainability and social attributes.
Cost: 1 pound bag; $3
Best microwaveable basic: No need to worry about preservatives, artificial flavorings or hydrogenated oils with this GMO-free product. Produced on a small family farm in Hunterdon County, New Jersey, Farmer Steve’s popcorn is certified organic. Lightly salted for extra flavor, these microwaveable bags are easy to use, and the popcorn makes a great base for any seasoning combinations you can come up with.
Cost: three 2.8-ounce bags; $5
Best microwavable flavor: Like Farmer Steve’s, Quinn produces GMO-free microwaveable popcorn sans artificial ingredients. The bag is also compostable. Simply pop the bag in the microwave then, after it has popped, sprinkle it with the handy little seasoning packages that come in the box. We particularly like the Parmesan & Rosemary flavor. It’s addictively salty with just a hint of rosemary.
Cost: two 3.5-ounce bags; $5
Best pre-popped flavor: Spicy and satisfying, this bag of popcorn really captures the sriracha flavor with seasonings green pepper, red pepper, garlic powder and paprika. Best of all, this product scores fairly high on the GoodGuide nutrition scale (7.5) and is made with non-GMO canola oil. Full disclosure: Even though the company is committed to the Non-GMO Challenge by providing a transparent listing of ingredients, this particular flavor is not made with GMO-free corn. For a completely non-GMO treat from Popcorn Indiana check out their Fit Popcorn with sea salt, which is also delicious.
Cost: 6-ounce bag; $5
Best kettle corn: Crunchy with the perfect blend of sweet and salty, this lightly flavored kettle corn is a great snack for any on-the-go outing. You can also keep it in the pantry for an easy-to-reach snack for the kiddos. This Minnesota-based company makes this product with whole grains, vegan, gluten-free and non-GMO.
Cost: 7-ounce bag; $4
Best take on popcorn: If you are craving something that seems a little sinful, then grab a bag of these vegan, gluten-free, non-GMO cheddar puffs. This puffy concoction is a cheesy delight—just make sure to wash your hands afterward! Pack them for lunch, take them with you on a road trip, or bring them along on a picnic.
Cost: 4-ounce bag; $4
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