Seasoning popcorn with cheese, Old Bay, sesame oil.

Spice Up Your Popcorn

Popcorn with pork floss, chili oil, Chinese 5-spice
Aaron Fenster / Heavy Table

As summer ebbs and flows through the city, one may start to feel that there are often more movie screenings (both indoor and out) than people to attend them. City folk dwell in an embarrassment of riches: they will be entertained, whether they’re seeking refuge from the heat in a temperature-controlled movie theater or braving the twilight mosquitoes at the park. But after your second, third, or — let’s be honest — fourth movie within a week, you may start to get weary of eating the same old buttered popcorn.

The solution: season it yourself! (If you answered, “Bring healthy snacks such as fruit and celery,” you are incorrect.) Embrace the inherent nerdiness of bringing your own seasonings to the cinema and just go with it. More often than not, this kind of thing sparks conversations with fellow moviegoers and theater employees and fosters the kind of community spirit that makes going to movies so fun in the first place.

Let’s start with the basics. If you’re going to bring your own popcorn to an outdoor screening or somesuch, it’s best to make it from scratch. You can get bulk popcorn kernels from the farmer’s market or the grocery store, and it’s often less than $1.50 per pound. Yield will vary from brand to brand; for this article, we used white popcorn from Whole Grain Milling (Welcome, MN) and got about a gallon of popcorn from a cup of kernels.

A pot of popcorn kernels in various stages of popping.
Aaron Fenster / Heavy Table

Get a large pot on medium-high heat with about a tablespoon of coconut oil. We found that a nonstick pasta pot, which came with a perforated lid, worked great. If you don’t have a lid, use foil and punch some holes in it to let out the steam. Test out the heat with a single kernel of corn — when it pops, the oil is ready to go!

Pour in your popcorn kernels and shake the pot frequently. From this point on, it’s basically microwave popcorn procedure: just wait for the popping to slow down. When it’s done, take the pot off the range. Here comes the fun part.

Popcorn being shaken in a bag with seasonings.
Aaron Fenster / Heavy Table

Seasoning popcorn is easiest and cleanest with a brown paper bag, Shake ‘n’ Bake style. While some seasonings won’t work too well with that method (grated cheese will just sink to the bottom), most of the spice-plus-fat combinations will. Speaking of fats, also make sure to clarify your butter if you can. Taking the water out of the butter prevents the popcorn from disintegrating into a mushy mess.

These are a few of the seasonings we tried out:

Popcorn with garam masala; truffle oil and parmesan; berebere; Old Bay seasoning.
Aaron Fenster / Heavy Table

(Clockwise from top left: garam masala and clarified butter; truffle oil with porcini mushroom salt and Parmesan; Old Bay seasoning; berebere spice and ramp butter. The popcorn at the top of this article is seasoned with chili oil, Chinese five-spice, and pork floss.) We also tried out furikake, cinnamon sugar with butter, and grey sea salt with pepper. Unsurprisingly, we found it really hard to go wrong — especially since we started with a popcorn that tasted great unadorned. In terms of simplicity, the Old Bay won by a landslide. As it turns out, the definitive flavor of Atlantic crab boils goes great on fries, popcorn, and all manner of snackery. The pork floss / chili oil combo came in a close second, with its tastiness being dragged down by its impracticality.

I mean, you can bring your entire spice cabinet with you to the movies…

Seasoning popcorn with cheese, Old Bay, sesame oil.
Aaron Fenster / Heavy Table


  1. morchella

    My personal favorite: Butter and nutritional yeast (available at co-ops and natural food chains,) which has a nutty parmesean-like flavor. The combo is just as good with olive oil for vegan pals.

  2. Carla @ Gluten Free Recipe Box

    I love flavored popcorn, especially when it’s naturally flavored. I recently made homemade cheese powder just by drying out some cheddar cheese. It’s wonderful on popcorn and on homemade chips. They both make a great gluten-free snack.

    Love your photographs!

Comments are closed.