What Is Kettle Corn? A Sweet and Salty Explainer

Put the kettle to the metal and try to keep up because we are about to pop off on America’s favorite snack! Well, I don’t know if it’s America’s very favorite, but it’s definitely up there. I’m talking of course about popcorn, the snack that combines everyone’s favorite action, popping, with that food the corn kid from that meme loves, corn! There are countless varieties of popcorn: salty, plain, sweet… actually, those are pretty much the main ones. Today we’re focusing on the sweetest of sweets, the treat that intrigues us and beckons our noses to its booth at state fairs, kettle corn. Is kettle corn sweet? You bet kettle corn is sweet! We’ll also answer questions like why is kettle corn sweet? How is kettle corn made? And is kettle corn vegan? Sorry to keep all the vegans in suspense…stay tuned and read on!

What is kettle corn? 

Kettle corn is a variety of popcorn that is seasoned and mixed with light colored refined sugar, salt, and oil, giving it a sweet flavor. Back in the day it was made in cast iron kettles, hence the name “kettle” corn. Why is kettle corn sweet? Because there’s sugar in there! Yes, there is sugar and salt, but the caramelized sugar in the recipe becomes the prominent flavor over the salty notes. Kettle corn is like the lovechild of regular popcorn and caramel corn. It gets a nice sugary, light brown caramelization, but doesn’t go fully to the sweet side, while also retaining some of its salty character. 

Is kettle corn vegan? 

Kettle corn is just popcorn kernels, sugar, salt, and a neutral oil, usually vegetable. There is no butter called for in any type of kettle corn recipe. So, no dairy, no meat, and not even any palm oil means kettle corn is vegan. My cousin will sometimes eat a garbage bag of kettle corn and meatballs but that’s just a family thing.

How is kettle corn made? 

These days, huge vats of kettle corn are made in large copper kettles at state and county fairs, and those weird carnivals that pop up in mall parking lots across the country. But kettle corn is easy to make at home as well. All you need is vegetable oil, popcorn kernels, granulated sugar and salt. You also need a working stove top and a pot or skillet, but I guess I’m kind of assuming you have those things. Originally, kettle corn was made in cast iron kettles. Those are like the big, black, cauldron-looking pots hanging over a fire often used by fairytale witches. As the kettle corn origin story goes, either German or Dutch settlers around the Pennsylvania area popularized cooking sweet popcorn in kettles around the 16th or 17th century. There are Dutch diaries from that time that mention kettle corn. Most of these stories about kettle corn’s origin are anecdotally told on various kettle corn brand websites. The truth is we don’t know much about when and where this sweet delicious snack comes from other than it’s been around a long time. Corn is native to the Americas, so it’s likely popcorn was not brought here by Europeans. In fact, French explorers wrote about Iroquois people popping corn kernels in pottery jars filled with heated sand. But how far back they were popping corn, and whether or not they had a sweet version, we’ll never know. All I know is that I’m glad someone invented kettle corn so that I can eat it while I ride questionable rollercoasters in abandoned mall parking lots!

best kettle corn

Best Kettle Corn

Now that you know all about kettle corn, find out what the best kettle corn is. We tasted the top bagged and microwave kettle corn and found the best ones.

About the Author

Will Morgan

Will Morgan, a freelance contributor to Sporked, is an L.A. based writer, actor, and sketch comedy guy. Originally from Houston, TX, he strongly believes in the superiority of breakfast tacos to breakfast burritos. Will traveled the world as one of those people that did yoyo shows at elementary school assemblies, always making a point to find local and regional foods to explore in whatever place he was, even in rinky-dink towns like Tilsonberg, ON. Will spends his birthdays at Benihana’s. Let him know if can make it.

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