Gourmet: Pop Stars

Since it first popped into the mainstream in the late 1800s, popcorn has transitioned from an indulgent treat to a health-conscious staple of the American snack-food industry.

By Emily Gibson

People were munching on popcorn long before the advent of the movie screen and the microwave. In fact, popcorn was first cultivated thousands of years ago but didn’t get popular until the late 1800s. Once it took off in the U.S., popcorn became a popular snack found at circuses and fairs, but not in theaters. That’s because theaters at that time were adorned with ornate decorations and expensive rugs. The thought of kernels being ground into the carpet was reason enough to keep the snack food away from auditoriums. Hesitantly and after some time passed, the salted, buttery popcorn that has become a moviegoer staple was introduced to the cinematic experience. By 1950, movies and popcorn were a couple.

But all popcorn isn’t created equally. In addition to kernels that leave us with oily fingertips, there are a variety of healthy snacking popcorns out there that are light and easy to take on the go.


National Popcorn Brands

SmartFood: SmartFood has been popping since 1985. According to 2013 data from Information Resources Inc., Smartfood is America’s No. 1 selling popcorn brand. It advertises air-popped kernels made with real white-cheddar cheese that “doesn’t glow in the dark.” smartfood.com

Redenbacher’s: “You’ll like it better or my name isn’t Orville Redenbacher.” We’re all familiar with the promising phrase spoken by Redenbacher’s founder. The company’s SmartPop! popcorn line touts only 100 calories for every 6 cups of popcorn gobbled. orville.com

Angie’s BoomChickaPop: Founded in a Minnesota garage, BoomChickaPop is now sold nationwide. Marketed as popcorn for the health conscious, the brand offers gluten-free and non-GMO popcorns in flavors such as sea salt, white cheddar and sweet & spicy. boomchickapop.com

Pop Weaver: Pop Weaver was founded in 1928 and is now a top-selling microwave-popcorn brand. Want to feel fancy? Try Pop Weaver’s new Parmesan with Italian herbs & garlic flavor. popweaver.com


Austin-based Popcorn Brands

Cornucopia Popcorn Creations: Cornucopia first set up shop on Red River Street in 2008. It offers more than 30 popcorn flavors, ranging from amaretto almond and sopapilla to dill pickle and cheesy caramel. cornucopiapopcorn.com

Reel Popcorn: Reel Popcorn offers sizes ranging from 5-cup snack bags to 6-gallon extra-large bags. The popcorn is also sold at University of Texas football games, in iPic Theaters, at the St. David’s Medical Center gift shop and in several markets and bars throughout town. reelpopcornaustin.com

SkinnyPop: SkinnyPop specializes in natural, gluten-free popcorn made from whole-grain kernels and sunflower oil. One standard cup of popcorn is about 39 calories, on average. skinnypop.com


Austin Gourmet Popcorn: Austin Gourmet Popcorn offers more than 70 popcorn flavors. The tastes range from original buttered popcorn to birthday cake, coconut curry and Sriracha lime. The shop also makes a Dirty-6th-themed popcorn, a combination of sweet kettle corn flavored with hardwood-smoked sea salt. How’s that for a hometown touch? austingourmetpopcorn.com

Did You Know?

  • The unpopped kernels at the bottom of the popcorn bag have a name: old maids.
  • The scientific name for popcorn is “zea mays everta.”
  • Charles Cretors invented the first commercial popcorn machine in Chicago in 1885.
  • Popcorn was a popular snack during the Great Depression because it sold for 5 or 10 cents a bag. While many industries met their demise in the Depression, the popcorn world was just popping up.
  • Americans eat enough popcorn per year to fill the Empire State Building 18 times.
  • “Popcorn” is not solely the name of the snack food. It is also the name of the grain that puffs up when heat is applied to it. It is the only grain that responds to heat this way. 

For foodies:

Make popcorn a delicacy with Swift’s Attic’s signature dessert, Popcorn & a Movie. Dig into this decadent display of butter-popcorn gelato, house-made candy bar, caramel corn and an oozy, delicious root-beer gel for the perfect combination of salty and sweet. Swift’s Attic, 315 Congress Ave.


Photos courtesy of Cornucopia Popcorn. Photos courtesy of their respective companies.


Food & Drink