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You’ll Never Believe What’s In Movie Theater Popcorn

It’s not a night at the movies without a popcorn bucket and a Coca-Cola. It wasn’t until the invention of the “talkies” in the late 1920s that the salty treat got its foot (er kernel) in the movie theater door. Movies were no longer for the rich, and especially during the Great Depression, many Americans took to the movies to find comfort in such hard times. Movie theater popcorn, which was a cheap and easy snack, fit the bill perfectly to provide movie-goers with a small meal to enjoy at a reasonable price.

Today it’s nearly impossible to go to the movie theatre without making a pitstop at the concession stand and buying your movie popcorn. But what exactly is in movie theater butter popcorn that makes it taste so different from homemade popcorn you make in the microwave? The secret: There’s no actual butter in it.

It’s okay, you can put down your pitchforks. I felt just as betrayed as you, but I still find myself eating the stuff every time I see a movie at the local theater. The secret is popping up the corn in coconut oil, which has a high smoke point and can reach higher temperatures than something like olive oil. This helps the popcorn cook up fast and gives it a little bit of a nuttier taste.

Have you ever noticed that some movie theater popcorn tends to be yellow? (Have you seen Target’s popcorn?) This is from a product called, “Flavacol” which is butter flavored popcorn salt used in most major movie theaters. Simply add the powder to the unpopped popcorn kernels and pop. It’s no wonder at-home popcorn tastes so different from movie theatre butter popcorn.

From there, the butter flavored topping is added to your popcorn (You know, the stuff you can pump into the top of your popcorn) and your movie night is complete with snacks. Some mixes contain partially hydrogenated soybean oil, beta-carotene, tertiary Butylhydroquinone or TBHQ along with dyes and buttery flavoring. What’s in that buttery flavoring? Who knows.

In fact, you can make your own movie theater flavored popcorn right at home! You can even buy Flavacol and buttery flavor popcorn topping to make it completely authentic. Spill some soda on the ground and you can almost charge your family for movie tickets.

Not a fan of the fake popcorn butter? Our friends over at The Kitchn have the perfect guide on making stove-top popcorn with real butter– clarified butter to be exact. Clarified butter, which removes the milk solids and extra water content, giving you a clean buttery flavor for your popcorn. You can buy clarified butter at your local grocery store or follow the guide here. Or better yet, just top your popcorn popper popcorn with a hearty helping of melted butter. You don’t need to be an aficionado of buttery popcorn to understand that regular butter is a totally different taste than the movie theater fake butter stuff.

Watch: The 10 Best Dolly Parton Movies, Ranked

Lyndsay Burginger is a food and lifestyle writer as well as the Managing Editor of Wide Open Eats. Lyndsay has worked for companies such as America's Test Kitchen and Disney, and holds degrees in Creative Writing and Culinary Arts. When she's not writing or cooking you can find Lyndsay traveling ...Read more
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