How to Make Air-Popped Popcorn: An Easy and Healthy Recipe - Public Goods

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How to Make Air-Popped Popcorn: An Easy and Healthy Recipe

You may have heard that, more often than not, microwave popcorn is unhealthy.

popped popcorn in a white bowl

It’s not so much that popcorn kernels are unhealthy; popcorn kernels by themselves are actually a healthy, fun snack. Sadly, it’s the common addition of chemicals and artificial flavors (such as that butter flavor found in store-bought popcorn) that make this otherwise healthy snack a no-go.

Fortunately we have a choice! There is an easy way to avoid these harmful additives: by buying your own corn-kernels and popping your own popcorn. You can find cheap, organic corn-kernels in most grocery stores, usually in the snack, grain or bulk aisle.

What is Air-Popped Popcorn?

Air-popped popcorn is, arguably, the purest, most user-controlled and most cost-effective way to make popcorn. It allows snackers to pop their own kernels and have full control over what ingredients go into the bowl, providing a healthier, low-calorie snack.

A Brief History of Popping Corn

The history of air-popped popcorn goes back thousands of years, with dozens of different cooking methods. In the modern United States, air-popped popcorn became incredibly popular during The Great Depression and World War II. It was a cheap, non-rationed snack available to all, thanks to mobile popcorn food carts.

One of the original popcorn carts was created by Charles Cretors in the 1890s. Using a steam-powered roasting process, Cretors cooked corn kernels, peanuts and other snacks on his high-tech cart. In the early 1900s, popcorn cart owners adopted electrical power, making them easier, cheaper and more ubiquitous than their steam-powered predecessors.

Air-popped popcorn continued to rise in sales throughout the 1900s, up until the 1980s, when microwave popcorn burst onto the scene. As more and more households acquired microwave ovens, more and more popcorn sales shifted from air-popped to microwave. Air-popped popcorn was still available at movie theaters, county fairs and food carts, but microwave popcorn continued to dominate the market. Then, in the 2010s, bagged, air-popped popcorn started its grocery aisle takeover.

How To Make Air-Popped Popcorn

While bagged air-popped popcorn avoids many of the harmful chemicals and added flavorings microwave popcorn contains, it is still often loaded with salts and oils, which equals high calories and saturated fat. To get back to basics and eat some actually healthy popcorn, you have to make it yourself!

To make your own air-popped popcorn, you have a few options. You can purchase specialty equipment, such as a hot air popper. An air popper is a device that uses heat to pop popcorn kernels, sending them up into the plastic guard and out into the bowl. Simply pour the kernels in the air popper and let them pop out into the bowl!

You can also prepare air-popped popcorn by getting your own paper bag, putting some kernels inside and microwaving it, just like microwave popcorn (minus the additives). While this approach is simple, it does involve a bit of trial and error, as well as throwing paper bags in the garbage.

For most people, the best and easiest way to make air-popped popcorn is on the stovetop.

Air-popping popcorn on the stove is incredibly easy, and I guarantee you already have everything you need to make it. The main and most important item you’ll need is a non-stick pot with a lid.

The following recipe is as simple as possible, with no oils or seasonings. After all, it’s called air-popped popcorn, not oil-cooked popcorn. You can add ingredients like olive oil or butter as part of the cooking process, but they are not necessary. If you do want to add butter to your popcorn, put it in the microwave and pour it over the freshly popped popcorn.

Stovetop Air-Popped Popcorn

Serving Size: 1-2 people


  • Popping Corn, depending on pot size:
    • ¼ cup for 1.5 qts pan
    • ½ cup for 3 qts pan
  • (optional) Seasonings.


Step 1: Pre-heat your non-stick, covered pot over high heat.

cooking pot with lid on stovetop, ignited stovetop flame

Step 2: Flick a few drops of water into the pot. When the water sizzles, you’re ready to add your popcorn kernels.

water boiling in cooking pot on stovetop

Step 3: Remove the pot lid, add kernels into the pot, and cover the pot once more.

measuring cup filled with popcorn kernels poured into a cooking pot

Step 4: Reduce heat to medium-low.

popcorn kernels in cooking pot with lid on stovetop

Step 5: To prevent burnt kernels, shake the pot every six or so seconds.

popcorn and popcorn kernels popping in cooking pot on stovetop

Step 6: After 2-3 minutes, the kernels should start to shift in color, and smell like popcorn!

popcorn in a cooking pot with lid on a stovetop

Step 7: After 3 – 4 minutes, the kernels should start popping.

hands holding a bowl of popcorn

Step 8: If you do not hear a pop for more than 5 or 6 seconds, remove pot from heat.

Step 9: Pour hot popcorn into your favorite serving bowl!

white bowl filled with popcorn

Tip: Do not pour hot popcorn into a plastic bag or another thin plastic storage item. The hot, exposed kernels can melt through plastic.

Is Air-Popped Popcorn Healthy?

Corn kernels by themselves are a healthy snack made from whole grains, high in fiber and low in fat and calories. It is only with the addition of chemicals, oils and artificial flavorings that popcorn becomes unhealthy. Using the stovetop to make a pure, fresh batch of popcorn means you’ll be enjoying a healthy snack, as nature intended.

While I love eating stovetop popcorn plain, I know some people — especially those used to microwave and movie theater popcorn — find the flavor bland. Some healthy, tasty toppings include sea salt, pepper, crushed red pepper, cayenne pepper and nutritional yeast. And if you do want to add oil, stick with high quality, organic oils, like olive oil and coconut oil. Of course, butter is a staple topping for popcorn, but do so in moderation to keep the fat and calories low.

So, the next time you’re getting ready to watch your favorite show or movie, enjoy this quick, natural, healthy and classic snack.

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