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When you’re snacking for dinner, popcorn can’t be beat. It’s an ideal “main course” because it’s more filling than other snack foods and doesn’t rely on a fryer for flavor. It also can be made from scratch in minutes with no special equipment other than a large pot, and you can flavor it any which way you want.
It’s not necessary to save popcorn night for a special occasion, either. While you can certainly pair popcorn with a movie-watching evening, there is no law against making popcorn for dinner whenever the moment feels right. Don’t fight the feeling.
It’s a snack that really fills you up
Popcorn is an unprocessed whole grain: In fact, it’s the combination of a starchy core inside a fibrous outer hull that makes popcorn pop. It’s also high in fiber, containing nearly 4 grams per 4-cup serving, and contains a significant amount of polyphenols that can help lower blood sugar levels and help digestion.
In addition, “popcorn is a filling snack due to the volume it takes up in your stomach, which keeps us from over-snacking,” said registered dietitian nutritionist Julien Chamoun of RD Nutrition Counseling in New Jersey. Popcorn has been shown to be more satiating than potato chips, meaning you’ll feel fuller after eating it.
Keep in mind, however, that “although popcorn is a great healthy snack, when oil gets added during the cooking process, it can double the calories and the fat,” Chamoun said. He recommends an air popper as the best method to limit the amount of oil added during cooking, but if you don’t want to spring for one, you can still make popcorn with very little oil per serving on the stovetop. Here’s how.
How to make basic stovetop popcorn
To make 16 cups popcorn (about 4 servings), you’ll need 1/2 cup popcorn kernels and 2 tablespoons neutral cooking oil, such as canola or vegetable oil.
Pour the oil into a large pot, at least 6 quarts in volume. Add two or three kernels to the pot, then cover and place over medium-high heat until you hear the kernels pop.
Once that happens, take the pot off the heat, pour in the remaining kernels, and cover the pan. Wait 30 seconds, then return the pot to the burner and cook, shaking the pan frequently, until the popping slows down.
Remove the lid to carefully allow the steam to escape, then transfer the popcorn to a large bowl to season it.
Make popcorn your own with flavor combos
When it comes to flavoring your popcorn, the options are as varied as your cravings. Popcorn can be jazzed up with an off-the-shelf blend like everything bagel or Old Bay seasoning, but it’s always fun to get creative and make your own combinations.
Whether you prefer a salty mix, a sweet treat, or a little of both, you can customize your bowl based on what your tastebuds are telling you.
Toss freshly popped popcorn with melted butter, coconut oil or olive oil to give the seasoning something to stick to, and then sprinkle on your choice of toppings. Try these suggested flavorings to get you started.
If you prefer savory
Pizza popcorn: Cheesy, herby, garlicky and just a little spicy – and better for you than eating an entire pizza or a basketful of breadsticks for dinner. If you’re dairy-free, substitute nutritional yeast for the Parmesan.
Sesame nori popcorn: Ethereally crunchy seaweed snacks aren’t just for eating on their own. Crush them into sesame oil-tossed popcorn for a Japanese-inspired bowl and add toasted sesame seeds for more texture.
Mexican popcorn: If you love the flavors of elote, or Mexican street corn, this seasoning is just as tangy but without the mess. Fresh lime juice and zest add a little extra something to each bite.
Buffalo ranch popcorn: Once you’ve made homemade ranch seasoning, you won’t want to go back to the store-bought packet. Add buttery hot sauce and you’ve got a game-watching go-to.
Barbecue popcorn: No sauce necessary with this recipe – smoked paprika is the secret to this simple sweet-and-smoky popcorn seasoning.
For a sweet sensation
Hot cocoa popcorn: Instead of weighing your popcorn down with melted chocolate, try a lighter kettle corn-style take on sweet and chocolaty popcorn. Mini marshmallow bits make it just right for enjoying by the fire.
Spiced snickerdoodle popcorn: You can make this better-than-bagged version with only cinnamon and sugar, but warming spices like cardamom and ginger lend this popcorn a more sophisticated feel.
Strawberry popcorn: Whirring freeze-dried strawberries in the food processor gives you a pretty pink powder that makes this popcorn berry different from other sweet snacks.
Toasted coconut popcorn: Use toasted coconut from the snack aisle if you don’t want to toast your own unsweetened coconut chips for this tropical take on popcorn. Add a few handfuls of cashews or almonds to turn it into a trail mix blend.
Maple pumpkin spice popcorn: Whether you choose to make your own pumpkin spice blend or go with a premixed version, you’ll still get all the fall feels from this flavoring.
Casey Barber is a food writer, illustrator and photographer; the author of “Pierogi Love: New Takes on an Old-World Comfort Food” and “Classic Snacks Made from Scratch: 70 Homemade Versions of Your Favorite Brand-Name Treats”; and editor of the website Good. Food. Stories.