Is Popcorn Gluten Free?
Popcorn is nothing but corn kernels that puff up when heated. As such, it’s safe to assume that popcorn is gluten free – or is it?
Plain corn is gluten free, and regular air-popped kernels are also gluten free. The problem arises when flavoring or toppings are added. However, as long as you stay away from the few brands that may pose a risk for cross-contamination, there are still many brands that are safe to eat.
In this article, we’ll explore the subject of popcorn as a gluten free snack. You’ll also receive tips for buying gluten free popcorn and recipes to spice up your homemade popcorn.
Most Popcorn is Gluten Free
Gluten is a protein found in certain grains including wheat, barley, and rye. Corn is a gluten free grain, so plain popcorn is also gluten free. This makes it a safe snack for people with celiac disease as well as sufferers of non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
Before you rush to the store to stock up on popcorn, however, there are a few things you should know. While popcorn kernels in and of themselves are gluten free, not all store-bought popcorn is safe for celiac sufferers. The problem isn’t with the corn – it’s with the processing and the potential for cross-contamination with gluten-containing ingredients.
Fortunately, most major popcorn brands carry a “gluten free” label on the product which makes it easy to shop safe. Keep reading to find out which brands are gluten free.
Tips for Shopping for Popcorn
Whether you suffer from celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, you’ve probably gotten used to read food labels. The first place you should check is the allergen warning – if the product contains wheat, you should double-check the ingredients to check for sources of gluten. In fact, unless the product is clearly labeled “gluten free” you should scour the ingredients list.
To make things easy for you, we’ve assembled a list of top gluten free popcorn brands:
- Act II – A popular manufacturer of microwave popcorn, Act II offers eight flavors including butter, Xtreme butter, movie theater butter, and kettle corn.
- BoomChickaPop – Sold by Angie’s, this brand of popcorn comes in bags with plenty of ready-to-eat flavors like cheddar cheese, real butter, sweet ‘n salty kettle corn, and white cheddar.
- Bob’s Red Mill – A popular manufacturer of gluten free products, Bob’s Red Mill offers both white and yellow popcorn kernels. Their popcorn tests gluten free to 20 ppm but be mindful that they process oats on shared equipment, so avoid this brand if you are sensitive to oats.
- Great Northern Popcorn Company – A brand with popcorn in the name has to be good and you can count on this brand to offer a variety of popcorn varieties and seasonings.
- Jiffy Pop – Perfect for popping over the campfire or your stove at home, Jiffy Pop comes in a heavy-gauge aluminum pan with a wire handle and it tests to less than 20 ppm gluten.
- Orville Redenbacher’s – One of the most well-known popcorn brands on the market, this brand advertises that they use real butter and they offer eight different buttery flavors for microwave popcorn as well as popcorn kernels and toppings.
- Pop Secret – Known for their microwave popcorn, Pop Secret offers a wide variety of flavors including traditional flavors such as movie theater butter and kettle corn, as well as unique flavors such as cinnamon roll. This brand also produces and packages their popcorn in a nut-free facility.
- Skinnygirl Popcorn – For the calorie-conscious, Skinnygirl popcorn is a low-calorie brand of popcorn that comes in two flavors – lime & salt and butter & sea salt.
- SkinnyPop Popcorn – This brand sells ready-to-eat popcorn in a variety of flavors including original, sea salt and pepper, white cheddar, and jalapeno. They also sell popcorn cakes and microwavable popcorn.
- Smartfood Popcorn – The self-proclaimed favorite popcorn brand in America, Smartfood sells several flavors of ready-to-eat bagged popcorn but only four of them are gluten free (white cheddar, movie theater butter, sea salt, and lower-calorie white cheddar cheese).
Though there are plenty of gluten free options for store-bought popcorn, there are a few brands you should be wary of. Arrowhead Mills, for example, offers a variety of gluten free products but neither their white or yellow popcorn appears on their gluten free list. NOW Foods is another brand to watch. They sell non-GMO, organic popcorn but it isn’t gluten free. This could simply mean that there is a risk for cross-contamination, but if you’re highly sensitive it is better to be safe than sorry.
What About Movie Theater Popcorn?
For many people, movie theater popcorn is half the reason for going to a movie – or the entire reason. You’re unlikely to find a theater that sells popcorn that is specifically labeled “gluten free,” but just because your local theater doesn’t advertise gluten free popcorn doesn’t mean it’s not safe.
Two of the largest cinema chains in the United States – AMC and Regal – claim that their popcorn is considered gluten free. Cinemark, other major company, says that their popcorn is gluten free as long as you forego the buttery topping. Keep in mind that even if the theater sells gluten free popcorn, the cooking oil and popcorn salt may not be free from dairy or soy.
Even if the theater of your choice can’t confirm whether their popcorn is gluten free, there is a low risk of cross-contamination since most theaters primarily sell packaged goods like candy and snacks. The exception to this rule is café cinemas that serve meals to patrons, so you may want to talk to a chef or manager in this case, just to be safe. If you are very sensitive to trace gluten, it may be safest to avoid movie theater popcorn entirely.
Spice Up Your Popcorn with These Tasty Recipes
Unless the popcorn you’re buying is labeled “gluten free,” it may not be worth the risk. Fortunately, it’s easy to pop your own corn at home, and there are some simple things you can do to spice it up.
One option is to buy popcorn seasoning to sprinkle on your home-popped corn. Kernel Season’s is a brand that offers several flavors of gluten free popcorn toppings including white cheddar, butter, caramel corn, kettle corn, and ranch. When in doubt, you can also make your own popcorn seasoning!
Here are a couple of tasty recipes to try at home:
Sticky Caramel Corn
Melt 1 ½ cups of salted butter in a large saucepan then stir in 2 ½ cups brown sugar and 1 cup of golden syrup. Stir until the brown sugar is dissolved then bring to a full boil and cook for 1 minute, stirring continuously. Remove from heat then stir in a teaspoon of vanilla before pouring the caramel over 24 cups of popped corn, gently stirring. Cool on wax paper and break it up to serve.
Peanut Butter Lover’s Snack Mix
Stir together a cup each of honey and white sugar in a large saucepan. Bring the mixture to boil over medium heat and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat then stir in a cup of peanut butter. Toss the mixture with 3 ½ quarts of popped corn then spread in wax paper to cool. Break up the popcorn into chunks and toss with M&Ms and pretzels to serve.
Parmesan Ranch Seasoned Popcorn
Combine ¼ cup of grated parmesan cheese with 2 tablespoons gluten free dry ranch seasoning mix. Add 1 teaspoon dried parsley and ¼ teaspoon of onion powder, stirring it together in a small bowl. Stir in 1/3 cup of melted butter and drizzle it over 3 ½ quarts of popped popcorn to serve.
White Chocolate Peppermint Popcorn
Start by melting ½ pound of white chocolate or white candy coating. Combine 3 ½ quarts of popped corn with 1/3 cup crushed peppermint candies in a large bowl. Drizzle the white chocolate over the popcorn and candy mixture then spread on wax paper to cool before breaking it up.
Sweet and Salty Snack Mix
Combine 10 cups of popcorn in a large bowl with 1 cup miniature pretzels (broken into chunks), 1 cup M&Ms candies, and 1 cup dried fruit (chopped, if needed). Next, melt 10 ounces of white candy coating (chopped to make it melt faster) and stir smooth. Drizzle the white candy coating over the popcorn mix and toss to coat before cooling on wax paper and breaking into chunks.
Popcorn is a tasty snack that can be low in calories, depending how you season it. If you’re considering a bowl of popcorn as your next snack, take a minute to double-check that the product is gluten free. If it’s not, buy some kernels and a microwave popper to make your own gluten free popcorn at home!