Kettle corn—popcorn cooked with sugar, salt, and oil—has been around for well over 100 years. Today, heavier coatings of caramel, toffee, and chocolate are giving kettle corns a run for their money.
Honestly. If it’s got more sugar than popcorn, it’s candy. Here’s a rundown of sweet popcorns:
Kettle corn. “Is it really smart to let yourself fall in love with a snack?” asks the Smartfood Kettle Corn bag. Not when a 4-cup serving has 450 calories, 8½ teaspoons of added sugar, and 380 milligrams of sodium. And the “perfect balance of salt and sugar” in Whole Foods 365 Organic Sweet & Salty Kettle Corn means 350 calories, 12 teaspoons of added sugar, and 690 mg of sodium. That’s perfect?
(Note: Microwave kettle corns cut calories by using the possibly unsafe sweetener sucralose.)
Caramel, etc. Some popcorns are so heavy—thanks largely to their caramel, toffee, or chocolate coatings—that few people would eat 4 cups. But the ½-cup or 1-cup serving on many labels is also unrealistic. So we settled on 2 cups. That’s bad enough.
“There’s nothing but the best in here,” says the Popcorn, Indiana Caramel Popcorn bag. Do they mean the best 440 calories in every 2-cup serving? Or the best 21 teaspoons of added sugar (half a week’s worth for women)? Or the best 480 mg of sodium?
And Smartfood Selects Blueberry Almond Vanilla Granola Coated Popcorn has more sugar and brown rice syrup than popcorn, oats, almonds, or blueberries. A 2-cup serving has 12½ teaspoons of added sugar and 560 calories.
Chocolate-coated popcorns add artery insult to injury. Two cups of Orville Redenbacher’s Poppycock Chocolate Lovers pile 12 grams of saturated fat on top of 640 calories and 12 teaspoons of added sugar. Don’t blame the chocolate, though. The culprit is the palm and palm kernel oil in the chocolate coating.
Cup for cup, candy-coated popcorns have about triple the calories of regular popcorns.
Only two brands hit a sensible added-sugar cutoff of 2 teaspoons: Angie’s Boomchickapop Lightly Sweet Popcorn (150 calories and 1½ teaspoons of sugar in 4 cups) and Trader Joe’s single-serve Lite Kettle Corn Snack Bags (110 calories and 1 teaspoon of sugar in each 3-cup bag). Popcorn, Indiana Cinnamon Sugar Kettlecorn missed by just 10 calories and ½ teaspoon of sugar.
Other relevant links: