Photo: Taste of Home
When it comes to settling in with a good movie—or binge-watching The Great British Baking Show—one thing’s for certain: you need the right snacks. While I typically like to mix sweet and salty (covering all my snacking bases), I can’t deny how satisfying a freshly popped bag of popcorn can be.
Of course, if I’m going to be binge-watching TV, I’m going to want that popcorn to be pretty darn tasty. So to find the best popcorn this side of the theater, I rounded up a crew of taste testers to put these 10 brands to the test:
- Act II
- Black Jewell
- Jolly Time
- Koepsell’s Popping Corn
- Newman’s Own
- Orville Redenbacher’s
- Pop Secret
- Skinny Pop
- 365 Everyday Value
Find out how they ranked!
Best Movie Theater Style: Pop Secret
“Look at these big fluffy kernels!”
Recreating movie-theater style popcorn at home is always a difficult task. It seems like no matter what you do, it’s never quite as tasty and addicting as those concession stand buckets. But once in a while, a microwave popcorn can come pretty close to that movie magic—enter Pop Secret.
This microwave popcorn offered us big, fluffy kernels with a satisfying crunch. When it came to the butter taste, we all agreed this one tasted a lot like movie theater popcorn (a gold standard for some). It had a stronger butter flavor than most brands, but it was in no way overwhelming or overly artificial. Sure, our fingers were a bit greasy in the end, but it was a small price to pay for this movie theater-style snack.
Best Natural Brand: Black Jewell
“This just tastes so fresh and good.”
Up next was natural brand Black Jewell. From the get-go, Black Jewell stood apart from our other best popcorn competitors due to its appearance. The hull of each cloud-like pop was distinctly darkened because of the brand’s decision to use black corn, a variety common to South America. (Some testers asked if this popcorn overstayed its welcome in the microwave, but I can assure you that’s just the black hulls.)
Black Jewell also stood out to us for its great taste. The smaller kernels used in this popcorn offered us an extra crunchy snacking experience. The butter flavoring on this microwave popcorn was subtle but definitely realistic—great for popcorn purists.
Also worth noting: This popcorn is non-GMO and offers more antioxidants than its other popcorn counterparts, so you can feel pretty good about this snack as you click “keep watching.”
Available at select retailers nationwide and Black Jewell’s website.
Best Mom-and-“Pop”: Koepsell’s Popping Corn
“This is like old-fashioned, air-popped popcorn—so good.”
Coming in just ahead of Black Jewell was the Wisconsin-based Koepsell’s Popping Corn. Like Black Jewell, Koepsell’s popcorn kernels are much smaller than what you normally see at the theater or at the grocery store. But what this popcorn lacks in size, it makes up for in taste!
These small kernels were perfectly crunchy and even a little nutty tasting. But what really set this brand apart from the pack was the amazing butter flavor coating each piece. As a crew of butter-lovers, this was crucial criteria for this test, and Koepsell’s blew us away with its perfect butter flavor. Looking at the scorecards, one tester put it concisely: “tastes AWESOME.” Psst! Learn which brand of butter we can’t get enough of.
Available at Wisconsin grocers and Koepsell’s website.
Best in Show: 365 Everyday Value
“This one has such a good fluff to it!”
Ending up with one of our highest testing scores ever was Whole Foods’ 365 Everyday Value. Testers ranked this option as the best popcorn because it combined our favorite aspects of our other top picks: texture, appearance and smooth buttery flavor.
This popcorn stood out to us because, like Pop Secret, it offered giant fluffy kernels of popcorn. It truly looked picture perfect to us. It also was exceptionally crunchy without having too many stick-in-your-teeth hulls bothering us. Light and airy, our pick for best popcorn also had a light, authentic butter taste—enough to satisfy folks craving more than basic popcorn but not so much that you found yourself left with greasy fingers (save that for the cheese puffs!).
Available at Whole Foods nationwide and via Amazon.
Stray from the norm
When it came to the results, we were all shocked that less recognizable brands claimed three out of the four top spots. It turns out that taking a gamble at the grocery store on unique and niche brands can provide some of the tastiest results.
It’s all about the butter
As we began this test, participants chatted about whether or not fake butter was a pro or a con when it came to microwave butter. Many folks (myself included) admitted to just enjoying that faux butter taste that you get at the movie theater, but in the end, this test revealed that there’s nothing like authentic butter flavor. Our top three picks all got high marks for tasting like the real thing. Want to mix it up? Try our flavored popcorn recipes for extra-special snacking.
Disclosure: This post is brought to you by Taste of Home editors, who aim to highlight products and services you might find interesting. If you buy them, we get a small share of the revenue from the sale from our commerce partners. We frequently receive products free of charge from manufacturers to test. This does not drive our decision as to whether or not a product is featured or recommended. We welcome your feedback. Have something you think we should know about? Contact us, here.