23 Ways to Top Your Popcorn

My favorite snack of late is air-popped popcorn. A whopping 3 cups of air-popped popcorn is a mighty filling whole-grain snack yet only has 92 calories, plus 19 g carbs, 3 g protein, and 4 g fiber. But have you ever eaten plain air-popped popcorn? It can be rather bland and dry. As the saying goes, the secret’s in the sauce. For under 150 calories, you can flavor your popcorn in plenty of ways. Salty or sweet, spicy or savory–it’s up to you.

Once you’ve popped your popcorn, it’s time for the seasoning. To get your dry herbs, spices and other seasonings to stick, you’ll need a little liquid, usually in the form of a fat. A little goes a long way, but you can even have butter on your popcorn without going over 150 calories!

Wondering how these varieties stack up against the tins of gourmet popcorn we’re all bombarded with during the holidays? While these all have 150 calories or less, the cheese, buttered or caramel versions can have up to 300 calories in a little more than a cup, with 18 g fat!

Let’s get popping!
Melt your fat and use a mister if possible for even spreading. Tip: Pour half your popcorn into a bowl, add half the fat, half the seasonings, then repeat for better distribution of ingredients.

Fat (1 teaspoon)CaloriesFat (g)
Olive oil202
Butter (salted)*344
Truffle oil or other flavored oil505
Coconut oil395

* plus 27 mg sodium

I also use a spritz bottle of Bragg’s liquid aminos in place of salt (0 cals, 55 mg sodium in 1/4 tsp) and fat sometimes.
Ready for some pumped-up popcorn toppings?

Sweet Popcorn Toppings

Chocolate: Sprinkle on hot popcorn 1 tablespoon mini chocolate chips (50 cals). You don’t need any fat, but maybe a pinch of salt. Toss well, and grab napkins. This one is messy. You could also swap in other flavors of chips: peanut butter, butterscotch, mint-chocolate… the possibilities are endless (and messy)!

Mexican Chocolate: Sprinkle on a teaspoon of butter, then a few shakes of cinnamon a dash of cayenne and a teaspoon or so of unsweetened cocoa powder (20 cals).

Cinnamon-Sugar: 1 teaspoon unsalted butter (34 cals) or coconut oil (39 cals), 1 teaspoon sugar (16 cals; choose brown sugar for more flavor), cinnamon to taste (3 cals). Sprinkle the sugar on the buttered popcorn, then shake on the cinnamon. Other good combos: sugar and chai spices, sugar and pumpkin pie spice, powdered ginger and sugar, vanilla or lavender sugar.

Buttery Maple: Drizzle on 1 teaspoon salted butter (34 cals) and 1 teaspoon maple syrup (17 cals). Eat immediately because this will get soggy in places. For added flavor, sprinkle on ground rosemary or black pepper.

Savory Popcorn Toppings

The possibilities here stretch the length of the herbs and spices aisle at the supermarket. Start with your teaspoon of fat, then sprinkle on as many herbs and spices as you desire. They’re virtually fat-free and incredibly low in calories.
If your herbs and spices are not powdered, use a spice grinder or mortar and pestle so they’ll sprinkle on popcorn more easily.

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Here are some suggestions (be sure to choose salt-free seasonings):

  • Italian seasonings (oregano, fennel, red pepper flakes, marjoram, and basil) with olive oil
  • Curry powder (red or yellow) with coconut oil
  • Lemon-pepper and butter
  • Garlic powder and butter or olive oil
  • Rosemary, thyme, and sage with olive oil
  • Jerk seasoning and coconut oil
  • Old Bay seasoning, dried lemon zest, and butter
  • Herbes de Provence and butter
  • Tarragon, dried mustard and butter
  • Smoked paprika and olive oil
  • Five spice powder and coconut oil

Salty Popcorn Toppings

Cheesy: Skip the oil and sprinkle on 1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese (23 cals). You can use the fancy stuff, but the canned variety works really well on popcorn! For pizza popcorn, add dried oregano and red pepper flakes.

Cheezy: If you don’t eat cheese, go for nutritional yeast. Sprinkle on two tablespoons of “nootch” (60 cals) atop popcorn drizzled with Bragg’s (0 cals). Take this over the top with a sprinkle of smoked paprika (3 cals). BONUS: 2 T nutritional yeast has 8 g protein and 6 g fiber!

Gomashio: This Japanese condiment is perfect atop popcorn. A mix of sesame seeds, nori (seaweed) and salt, it adds texture and saltiness. Sprinkle on 1 tablespoon (30 cals) along with 1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil (20 cals).

Ranch: Start with a teaspoon of unsalted butter (34 cals), then sprinkle on one teaspoon ranch dressing mix (15 calories). This amount contains 405 mg sodium, so feel free to cut back.

Flavored Salt: Used sparingly, you can accommodate a bit of salt on your popcorn. In 1/4 teaspoon, you’ll add 581 mg sodium to your day. Choose flavored salts for an extra boost of flavor. Sprinkle on after adding your fat of choice.

Spicy Popcorn Toppings

Buffalo: Mix equal parts hot sauce and butter, then sprinkle on your popcorn. This will make it a bit soggy and messy, but it’s so good. Sprinkle on nutritional yeast (30 cals per tablespoon) for more flavor.

Chili-Spiced: If you don’t want such a messy snack, reach for chili powder. (Try chipotle powder, which will add a bit of smoky flavor.) You can also use a teaspoon of taco seasoning, but choose salt-free varieties.

Fiery Wasabi: For a sinus-clearing snack, sprinkle on wasabi powder to taste (0 cals in 1/4 teaspoon) along with 1/4 teaspoon Bragg’s or low-sodium soy sauce and 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil (20 cals).

Here’s a bonus recipe for all your sweet popcorn fans out there. Try Chef Meg’s Caramel Popcorn, from The SparkPeople Cookbook,  now in paperback!

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