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Make Inexpensive Healthy Popcorn for a Snack

Updated on November 5, 2015

Pop Your Own Popcorn and Save Money and Calories

I was getting a little hungry one night recently and recalled that I had some popping corn in the pantry. Ah, how I missed you old friend… I used to make popcorn quite a bit when my boys were younger but got out of the habit of making it at some point. Unlike the already popped popcorn or microwave popcorn varieties that you can buy at the store which are more expensive and less healthy (additives and fats/sugars and chemicals), when popping corn fresh you control what goes in it. Making popcorn from “scratch” means saving money, saving inches on the waistline and better health.

Pick Out Some Good Popcorn - Try Organic Popcorn

Unpopped popcorn Ready for Popping
Unpopped popcorn Ready for Popping

Popping Popcorn is Cheap

It’s pretty inexpensive – especially when compared to snack alternatives such as chips. A $3 bag of chips with about 15 - 1 oz. servings is 20 cents per serving. Microwave popcorn from the store ranges from 15 to 30 cents per serving depending on the brand you pick. Popcorn already popped that you can find in the store can be found for as cheap as 10 cents per serving but the better popcorn (the kind you don’t ultimately feed to birds) is about 30 cents per serving. Movie popcorn – well, forget I brought that up.

At $1 per pound for popping corn (unfortunately the price has been negatively impacted by the recent drought), the price per serving (nothing added) is about 6 cents per serving (3 cups). Gourmet and organic popcorn are a little more expensive but still cost effective – maybe twice as much as regular popcorn.

If you add a little canola oil to cook it in (say 1 tablespoons for 6 servings), then you’re probably looking at about 7 cents per serving. Air poppers use no oil of course.

If you add some sort of buttery goodness and seasonings, then that can add a few cents per serving too (depending on what and how much is added).

Clearly though, you can save some money popping!

Making Your Own Popcorn is Healthy

Another reason that popcorn “popped” onto my radar is that researchers have discovered it is healthier than once thought. According to Joe Vinson, a Ph. D. at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania, the antioxidant power of popcorn is a lot more concentrated than fruits or vegetables (due to popcorn’s low water content). These antioxidant polyphenols are recognized as having powerful free radical scavenging properties which help keep our bodies poised to face the free radicals we continuously produce.

A three cup serving of popcorn only has about 100 calories. It’s extremely low in sodium (2 mg), low in fat (about 11 calories), high in fiber (4 g), and has virtually no simple sugars (0.2 g) – according to the NutritionData website.

This is where the control part comes back in. It’s easy (and tempting) to add things to the popcorn to make it less healthy. So let’s discuss some healthy alternatives that are still tasty.

Fats are tasty – there’s no denying that. Good, heart-healthy fats are, fortunately, tasty too. If you cook the popcorn in a little bit of healthy oil, you probably won’t need to put as much butter/margarine on it to feel satisfied. I use canola oil because it’s cheap, healthy, and holds up to higher heats well (especially compared to olive oil). Remember that each tablespoon of canola oil adds 120 calories to your batch. Most of that is heart-healthy fat but some people may prefer to air pop to avoid these calories.

If you want to use a butter something-or-other, consider some of the following alternatives to regular butter or margarine:

1. Butter that is made with olive oil or canola oil (here you can use an olive oil one since you just have to melt it)

2. Butter-like spreads made with canola oil, olive oil, or flaxseed oil.

3. No-salt butter that’s a better alternative than regular butter for those watching their sodium.

How about fresh pressing a clove of garlic and add that to your buttery indulgence? You can sauté it a bit to tone the garlic down if you prefer. Or, use jarred garlic and just add it to your butter before it’s warmed up. Garlic is extremely good for you and is not only a very potent antioxidant but helps your body fight invading bacteria, viruses and fungi.

Remember that all of these buttery concoctions will still have saturated or polyunsaturated fats. I’m just suggesting healthier alternatives than those commonly used. You’ll add about 100 calories per tablespoon of most buttery additions.

Want to spice it up a little? I rarely use the butter stuff but like to sprinkle hot sauce on my popcorn. I look for lower sodium hot sauces because some are shockingly high in sodium. You can find 100mg or less of sodium per teaspoon pretty easily. You won’t need a whole teaspoon anyway… probably… The calories are insignificant and you get antioxidants from the hot sauce.

You can also consider a no salt substitute (like one with onion, garlic, and parsley for instance) as a topping. Try your favorite herbs or spices such as ginger or paprika or cinnamon or whatever tastes good to you. It’s amazing how good some of these herbs and spices are for you. If you are making popcorn for several people, everyone can have what they like on it.

This Is What Unhealthy Popcorn Looks Like

170 calories per serving (70% calories from fat), 380mg sodium, artificial color, artificial flavor, two preservatives
170 calories per serving (70% calories from fat), 380mg sodium, artificial color, artificial flavor, two preservatives

How to Make Your Own Popcorn

So now, we’re ready to pop our popcorn and enjoy our tasty snack. My preference is to use my trusty three quart non-stick sauce pan, with a lid. I put a couple of tablespoons or so of canola oil in it (a cough medicine measuring cup works well until you can eyeball it) and put it on a medium heat with two or three kernels. After one of them pops, I’ll pour in kernels no more than a single layer (about ½ cup). Of course one of the other kernels always escapes while I’m doing this (the five second rule applies)… and the rest of them start popping after a minute or two. After a couple of more minutes or so when the popping has slowed down considerably, I remove it from heat and take the lid off to start cooling it. You may dump it in a big bowl at this point so that it can cool faster. I don’t bother doing this because I don’t mind a few well-done kernels.

If I’m adding sautéed garlic to the butter, I’ll start this while I’m waiting for the oil to heat up. Otherwise, I’ll start on the butter after the popcorn starts to pop. If you want to sauté garlic then heat a teaspoon or less of olive oil for a couple of minutes. Next, add your garlic and sauté on very low heat for three minutes. Then add your butter.

If you aren’t using the stove to make your butter, microwaving only takes about 15 seconds (don’t forget to add garlic if you want to).

It’s pretty hot still when it stops popping so use care getting it into your bowls. Add your butter, hot sauce or seasonings and you’re done. Enjoy!

These are just a few ideas on how popcorn can be made at home to make it healthier than processed popcorns. You can experiment to your heart’s content (literally) - garlic infused oils, flavored spices and sauces all fit to be tried. Share how you like your popcorn. Thanks for reading!

Fresh, Hot, Healthy Popcorn Ready for Toppings

Moments from being popped and ready for eating.    You can add your favorite toppings or just try it like it is.  Yum!
Moments from being popped and ready for eating. You can add your favorite toppings or just try it like it is. Yum!

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    • Taurean Doll profile image

      Taurean Doll 4 years ago from Philippines

      We need to understand that it's a business and it doesn't help to whine about the cost when you try to buy from movie theaters. There are people who find it more convenient to buy than go through the hassle of making their own. TIP: choose a good quality popcorn kernel and use corn oil instead of canola or butter because it enhances the flavor of popcorn