Everybody has a secret popcorn fetish. At home, popcorn is an opportunity for our darkest food cravings, our most sinister creativity. We make bold flavor choices and don’t worry about being judged for them. We experiment and tinker, raiding our fridge and pantry in search of brave new flavor combinations. We become pioneers, postmodern artists, and goggle-wearing lab scientists. Popcorn allows our freak flags to fly. It’s how we say, “Screw it, this is what I actually like.”
Movie theater popcorn, however, is a starkly different experience. At the movies we are stifled, caged even. We submissively accept our two presented flavor routes: butter and no butter. We fall in line, regulating ourselves to the pump of liquid margarine and packets of iodized salt at the condiment station, unable to realize our full potential as flavor scientists. But at home, popcorn suddenly becomes a canvas for our personalities. It’s an opportunity to showcase our unique tastes and secret food desires. Want to get to know the real version of somebody? Watch them prepare popcorn in the privacy of their home.
My mom, for instance, loves to melt cheese on popcorn. I have fond childhood memories of her melting sharp cheddar onto a bowlful of popcorn, adding a sprinkle of low-sodium salt, and then sitting in the living room to watch the X-Files. Over the years, this cheesy tendency of hers has taken more artisanal routes. Every Christmas she sends me to the deli to pick up goat’s milk cheese studded with truffles, French mimolette, and Genuine Fulvi Pecorino Romano. Then, she takes this fine, imported cheese meant for fancy charcuterie and melts it over a bowl of popcorn in the microwave. She’s an agent of chaos, the Joker of the cheese world. But, I find her subversive use of fancy cheese to be endearing. It expresses her innate desire for decadence without the fuss. It is a reflection of herself.
Selena Gomez loves Tabasco and pickle juice. Scarlett Johansson puts Nutella on her popped kernels, and Molly Yeh famously made a popcorn salad recipe that includes mayo, watercress, vinegar, and shallots, that I guess you’re supposed to eat with a spoon? Sure, it seems absolutely psychotic, but you’d be wrong to judge. Everybody, everybody, has got some weird, wild, deeply personal popcorn topping obsession that they want to share.
So, leave your criticisms at the door and get to know the food freaks at Sporked by hearing what we all love to put on our popcorn.
- Worcestershire + Butter
Me? Staff writer Danny Palumbo? I like savory. Give me a combination of butter and Worcestershire with popcorn. The powerful umami, tangy, smoky zip of Worcestershire just does it for me. When added to popcorn with butter, it almost feels like I’m snacking on a butter-basted steak. Also, I’m a freak for anchovies, and Worcestershire is made with anchovy. I don’t mind wet popcorn, either. Drench it, baby.
- “Pasta” Flavor
Melt butter. Pour it on popcorn. Now add olive oil, garlic powder, salt, pepper, and Romano cheese. Boom. Pasta popcorn. Olive oil and butter together make for a deliciously balanced, unctuous texture. Plus, the combination of garlic, salt, and Romano cheese is too good to resist. This is seriously addictive.
- Soy Sauce + Only Soy Sauce
“No butter. No salt. Just straight up soy sauce drizzled on and (this is key) immediately and thoroughly tossed so you don’t end up with too many soggy puffs. I want savory and I want umami and I would eat soy sauce by the spoonful if I could,” says Sporked editor-in-chief Justine Sterling. “Using it as a popcorn topping is the closest I get while being somewhat socially acceptable. I’ve also tried adding soy sauce to the pot while the kernels are popping. That way you get some caramelized soy notes in the finished product. It is a bit of a smoking hazard, though. Worth it.”
- Ketchup Seasoning + Butter
I go nuts for ketchup chips. It’s mostly a Canadian thing, but a ketchup flavored chip like Herr’s just delightfully distills the whole french fry/tomato combination into one seamless experience. I bought some dry ketchup seasoning recently and, when applied to popcorn, it delights. The butter not only helps concentrate the flavor, but also it allows it to stick to the popcorn better.
- Za’atar + Butter
My fellow staff writer, Jordan Myrick, is straight and to the point with her topping obsession: “I love to add butter and za’atar,” she says. “It’s herby and flavorful, but not so potent that I can’t shovel handfuls of it into my mouth.”
“I like to add Tajín to my popcorn because something about the tanginess really resonates with me and I feel like popcorn is a surprisingly good medium for the lime flavoring to shine,” says Sporked editorial assistant Naajia Shukri. “Other things I’ve had with Tajín, like peanuts or Corn Nuts, almost detract from the flavoring because their texture is kind of distracting to me, but popcorn is soft enough so I don’t have to think about it and I can mindlessly eat a whole bag.”
- Hot Sauce + Olive Oil
My friend and comedian Blair Socci always talks about pouring hot sauce and olive oil on popcorn. I tried it. It’s delicious and satisfies my desire to completely run on olive oil like an Italian train engine. Toot, toot!
- Nutritional Yeast
Nutritional yeast is a magical product with an extremely boring name. Packaged sort of like parmesan cheese, the yellowy flakes are cheesy, savory, and umami-rich, and you’ll find them in vegan dishes like mac and cheese and gravy. But even meat-and-dairy lovers will like “nooch” sprinkled on popcorn. “It’s like cheddar popcorn but better,” says Sporked managing editor Gwynedd Stuart. “It’s salty and irresistible and guarantees I’m going to eat way more popcorn than I probably should.”