Beyond Butter: 7 Popcorn Flavors to Upgrade Your Snacking

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These seven popcorn flavors will take you far beyond basic butter. [Photographs: Daniel Gritzer]

I can't fault buttered popcorn; there's no denying that it's delicious. But there are so many other possibilities beyond that basic flavor! I've been working on some new ideas recently, and want to share them in time for the Super Bowl (the way things are going with the "Deflate Gate", you can at least be thankful no one will accuse you of under-inflating your popcorn). If you don't have a good popcorn popper at home, check out my preferred brown paper lunch bag microwave method.

Without further delay, here are seven flavors to change up your popcorn routine. Three of them are special ones I made just for the popcorn, and the other four are adaptations of the potato chip flavors I shared recently (the popcorn-specific flavors won't work on the chips because they require wet ingredients, whereas, with the addition of fat, the powdered chip flavors work perfectly on popcorn).

Matcha and White Chocolate Popcorn

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This sweet popcorn blends bright green Matcha tea with melted white chocolate for a subtle, Japanese-inflected flavor (take a look at our white-chocolate taste test to see which we like the best). Matcha, which comes as a powder, has a fresh, grassy flavor; by itself it can even be a little bitter, but when dissolved into the sweet white chocolate, its harsh edges are erased while still having its main flavors come through.

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Drizzle it on the popcorn while tossing to coat it evenly, then pop it in the fridge for a few minutes to help set the chocolate, and you'll be ready for snacking in no time.

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Brown-Butter Maple Popcorn With Pecans

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Brown butter couldn't be easier to make (check out our guide here). Once the butter's properly browned, maple syrup and pecans are added, and then the mixture is cooked until a caramel forms and thickens slightly. That all gets drizzled on the popcorn, tossed to coat, and briefly chilled in the fridge to speed up the hardening of the caramel.

The result is rich and nutty, both from the brown butter and the pecans—it's almost like pecan pie in popcorn form with a maple twist (but not nearly as cloyingly sweet).

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Bagna Cauda (Anchovy-Garlic) Popcorn

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For a bold, salty, savory kick, I took a page out of the Italian canon with this bagna cauda flavor. A sauce made with butter, olive oil, garlic, and anchovies, bagna cauda is traditionally used as a dip for vegetables, but here I drizzle it all over the popcorn. Think of it as your basic buttered popcorn flavor pumped up with lots of garlic and anchovy flavor—it's a serious grownup twist.

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Za'atar (Thyme, Sesame, and Sumac Spiced) Popcorn

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Za'atar, a Middle Eastern spice mix typically made with dried thyme and oregano, tart sumac, and sesame, is an awesome flavoring for popcorn. The sumac adds a nice berry tartness to the blend, while the herbs add woodsy notes, and the sesame a nutty quality.

It's also extremely easy to make, assuming you use store-bought za'atar: just toss the popcorn with olive oil, sprinkle on the za'atar and you're done.

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Miso-Soup-Flavored Popcorn

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Another flavor that couldn't be easier, since it comes straight out of a package, is this one with instant miso soup mix. Here, I toss the popcorn with melted butter, add the powdered miso soup on top, and then finish it with crumbled seasoned nori snack sheets. It's like miso soup in snack-mix form.

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Thai Red Coconut Curry Popcorn

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For lovers of spicy foods, this popcorn flavor is based on a classic Thai coconut curry. The flavor comes from a blend of dried coconut flakes, chili powder, powdered ginger and garlic, fresh lemongrass, and dried makrut lime leaves, all mixed together in either an electric spice grinder or a high-powered blender, until pulverized. This one packs a bit of a spicy punch, but it's all evened out with the sweetness of some muscovado sugar (you can also just use brown sugar).

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Chicken Dinner-Flavored Popcorn

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The silliest of the bunch, the idea here, which I originally created for potato chips, is to capture the flavor of an entire roast chicken dinner: a browned bird stuffed with garlic, lemons, and thyme, with a side of sautéed mushrooms. Because it's a mix of so many specific things, it's not necessarily a flavor you'd be able to guess upon tasting, but once you know what the blend is designed to evoke, it'll click. The secret ingredient is nutritional yeast, which I always enjoyed for its savory, roast-chicken flavor, even though it's a vegan product; to that I add some dried mushroom, lemon zest, garlic powder, and thyme. Just like mom used to make.

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