Life

We Blind Tasted All The Microwave Popcorn We Could Find — Here’s The Champ

Ten years ago, giant television screens, surround sound systems, and cool mood lighting were all novelties. Now they’ve become staples of most people’s living rooms. With some of the year’s biggest movies hitting streaming sites and the theater simultaneously, watching movies and peak TV at home feels more like an event now than it ever has. While home viewing will never truly match the communal experience of hitting a packed movie theater, it’s getting pretty damn close.

If you want your home viewing experience to fully capture the magic of going to the cinema, you’re going to need to make sure you have the best popcorn on hand. So who is making the best? We bought all the microwave popcorns we could find to get an answer!

To get more in line with the sort of stuff you’d find in the theater we defaulted to “Movie Theater Style Butter” or “Butter Lover’s” variations from every brand we could. If a brand didn’t have an extra butter style, we just went with the default butter flavor — making a small exception for one health-conscious brand because, well, some people want to stay away from butter and we can respect that. While we gravitated toward heavy-butter styles, this isn’t a ranking that is interested in finding the most buttery popcorn, that’s far too easy. Instead, we’re looking for the full experience: the texture of popcorn, the smell, and the overall balance of flavors.

Here’s our class:

  • Act II — Butter Lover’s
  • Cousin Willie’s — Movie Theater Butter
  • Jolly Time — Blast O Butter Ultimate Theatre Style Butter
  • Kroger — Movie Theater Butter
  • Market Pantry — Butter
  • Orville Redenbacher’s — Movie Theater Butter
  • Pop Secret — Movie Theater Butter
  • Simple Truth — Organic Butter Flavor
  • Skinny Pop — Butter
  • Trader Joe’s — Movie Theater Butter
  • Whole Foods 365 — Organic Buttery Flavor

Part 1: The Tasting

Taste 1:

Microwave Popcorn
Dane Rivera

Seriously lacking in butter but the corn itself has a very pleasant sweet and delicate flavor. The texture of this popcorn is very fluffy, with a soft mouthfeel that has a satisfying amount of snap before melting in your mouth.

With some added butter this could be a real contender for the top spot, but as it stands out of the bag, it’s just a bit too boring.

Taste 2:

Microwave Popcorn
Dane Rivera

Really sweet and buttery on the nose. The smell is very close to what you’d find at the movie theater, it jumps out at in a very appetizing way. The flavor is nothing to celebrate though, it’s very salty and each popcorn is small in size and full of kernel shards.

I’m not sure if sharp kernels are a marker of low quality, but this comes across as some low-quality popcorn to me.

Taste 3:

Microwave Popcorn
Dane Rivera

Almost wet with butter! This popcorn has that oily movie theater flavor with big fluffy bites. Very salt-forward with a pleasant subtly sweet finish.

Taste 4:

Microwave Popcorn
Dane Rivera

Big fluffy popcorn pieces with a real butter-forward flavor. This doesn’t taste like some overly salted oil, I’m getting the sense of real butter here. On the aftertaste, you get a lot of natural corn flavor with some interesting toasted notes.

This is the closest microwave popcorn has ever tasted to something prepared stovetop.

Taste 5:

Microwave Popcorn
Dane Rivera

This has a sort of stale vibe to it. Something about the texture seems old but the flavor really delivers. The initial flavor is buttery sweet with some salty notes coming out as you chew through it. This also has a toasted quality to it like the last taste, but it’s less pronounced.

Pretty good but it’s missing something to make it great.

Taste 6:

Microwave Popcorn
Dane Rivera

Something about this popcorn tastes old. It has a very stale texture and the butter, while I can see it, doesn’t really give off a lot of flavor. This popcorn is more texture than anything else.

Taste 7:

Microwave Popcorn
Dane Rivera

This one tastes pretty middling. It’s buttery, but not exceptionally so, and you don’t really get any sense of actual corn flavor as you bite into it. It’ll satisfy your craving for popcorn, but it pales in comparison to what you’d find at a movie theater.

Taste 8:

Microwave Popcorn
Dane Rivera

Once I tried Taste 8 I was beginning to think I was just tired of popcorn because of how many of these tastings were consecutively bland (I wasn’t, see Taste 9). I wouldn’t ever describe eating popcorn as “exciting” but this is by far the most boring popcorn I’ve ever tasted. Aside from a very lightly salted flavor, this is flavorless. You don’t get any sense of butter on this one at all.

Stay away from this brand, this is easily our bottom pick.

Taste 9:

Microwave Popcorn
Dane Rivera

This one was dripping in oily butter with a very artificial smell. Despite its wet appearance and off-putting smell, the flavor is great! It’s very indulgent, salty, buttery, and incredibly satisfying. Eating this popcorn doesn’t leave you wanting more butter, and that’s always a good thing.

If you can get past the smell and the radioactive-looking butter, this is a real winner.

Taste 10:

Microwave Popcorn
Dane Rivera

Another incredibly stale popcorn. The texture here is all off, it’s too soft and doesn’t have any snap. It gets stuck in your teeth like if you’re chewing on styrofoam or something.

There is also not nearly enough butter, despite the color.

Taste 11:

Microwave Popcorn
Dane Rivera

A lot of sharp kernel shards but a great flavor. It’s nicely balanced between salty, sweet, and buttery notes. It’s not quite as buttery as we’d want it to be to really capture that movie theater vibe, but that’s easily remedied by melting some of your own and pouring it on top.

Part 2: The Ranking

11. Skinny Pop — Butter (Taste 8)

Popcorn
Albertsons

Price: $4.84

I’m sorry to the health nuts out there but this brand is the worst. Skinny Pop is made with sunflower oil and sea salt, and the box even proclaims that it’s ‘chemical free’ which is sort of meaningless, but sure does sound great. But this brand also flavors this popcorn with something called “Natural non-dairy butter flavor” which isn’t at all the sort of thing you want if you love buttery popcorn. Skinny Pop calls itself “non GMO, gluten free, dairy free, peanut free, tree nut free, preservative free, no artificial flavors, and delicious” but that last part is an outright lie.

If you’ve eaten popcorn and ever thought it was bad, you were probably eating Skinny Pop.

The Bottom Line:

Don’t let the “Natural” marketing fool you, this is the worst popcorn you’ll ever eat.

10. Simple Truth Organic — Butter Flavor (Taste 10)

Popcorn
Kroger

Price: $3.99

I don’t really understand healthy popcorn brands, popcorn is a relatively healthy snack. It’s full of fiber, and low in calories, even when it’s doused in butter. So who is buying this stuff? Simple Truth features organic yellow corn with “butter flavor” and organic annatto. I’m not sure where the annatto comes into play (I can’t taste it at all) but for whatever reason, it’s in there.

The flavor is okay here, but overall it’s just too stale for us to recommend.

The Bottom Line:

Beware of health brand popcorn. It’s a red flag for staleness.

9. Pop Secret — Movie Theater Butter (Taste 6)

Popcorn
Popsecret

Price: $4.29

This one was a major surprise to me. Pop Secret is one of my go-to brands, I’ve always just thought of it as being pretty solid and it is, but it doesn’t stand out as being particularly great. This is another brand that uses annatto seed as a flavoring as well as paprika, but again, you don’t really get a sense of that in the popcorn. Not sure what those ingredients are for, but they don’t do a lot to make this particular brand stand out.

The Bottom Line:

I know, it’s a shock to me too! Pop Secret has always been a go-to brand for me but in a blind taste test it just didn’t stand out.

8. Act II — Butter Lover’s (Taste 7)

Popcorn
Walmart

Price: $3.42

Act II landed pretty much where I expected it to land. Butter Lover’s was the brand most present in my household as I grew up so I know this flavor pretty well. Ultimately this is a very middling brand that tastes fine enough, but won’t jump out at you as exceptionally delicious. Despite its name, there is no actual butter anywhere to be found in this popcorn, it’s instead flavored with “natural flavors” and doesn’t come across as particularly buttery in the first place.

The Bottom Line:

If you love butter, Butter Lover’s isn’t for you. This is mostly salty and little else.

7. Market Pantry — Butter (Taste 11)

Popcorn
Target

Price: $2.49

Market Pantry is Target’s in-house brand and for the most part, the label does every food it attempts justice. But we’re not looking for justice, we’re looking for exceptionalism, and this popcorn, as good as it is, isn’t exceptional. It has a very balanced sweet and salty flavor, but we’d like more butter here.

Target has an Extra Butter variation of this brand, but unfortunately, I couldn’t find it at either of the two Targets I went to.

The Bottom Line:

A good but not great popcorn brand.

6. Whole Foods — Organic Buttery Flavor Popcorn (Taste 1)

Buttery Popcorn
Whole Foods

Price: $5.29

Before embarking on this blind taste test, I had no idea so few popcorn brands use actual butter in their recipe, so I was shocked to find out that even Whole Foods uses “Organic Natural Flavor” instead of good ‘ol butter. This makes sense as microwave popcorn needs to be shelf stable, but it’s still a bit of a shock to me. Whole Foods popcorn doesn’t really deliver on the promise of butter, but what this lacks in sweet-salty goodness it makes up for in natural flavor.

You can really taste the corn here, each popper kernel tastes great, but to take it to the next level you need to add your own butter.

The Bottom Line:

Add your own butter and it’ll be some of the best popcorn you ever eat. As it stands, there are better brands out there that deliver more flavor.

5. Trader Joe’s — Movie Theater Popcorn (Taste 5)

Popcorn
Amazon

Price: $8.90

Trader Joe’s is too snobby to have microwave popcorn, so instead, they have this pre-packaged form that honestly should’ve been disqualified, but we know people ride hard for Trader Joe’s so we had to give TJ’s some love. And we’re glad we did because despite this not being microwaveable, it’s actually pretty damn tasty. It does suffer from a staleness, but the flavor really delivers. That’s probably because unlike most of the popcorn brands on this list, Trader Joe’s uses clarified butter in its recipe, allowing for a very satisfying salty and sweet flavor.

It’s just not buttery enough.

The Bottom Line:

It’s not microwave popcorn and as such, it suffers from staleness. If you can get past the soft texture, the flavor is great!

4. Jolly Time — Blast O Butter (Taste 9)

Popcorn
Walmart

Price: $3.88

We know, this looks and sounds really gross, but Jolly Time has actually managed to capture a lot of the magic of actual movie theater popcorn. This is intensely buttery and salty, with a noticeably wet appearance that looks like you just had that movie theater butter oil poured on your bowl. The result, while kind of stinky, is a salty, sweet, and buttery-tasting popcorn that’ll have you feeling like you just picked up a fresh batch from the theater. Albeit a cheap theater where the floors are sticky and the seats don’t recline.

The Bottom Line:

It’s a bit trashy and artificial but it tastes delicious and delivers on the promise of extra butter.

3. Kroger — Movie Theater Butter

Popcorn
Open Foods

Price: $3.79

Kroger products aren’t supposed to top rankings — they look cheap, are cheap and generally taste cheap — so we’re happy to see that our blind taste test had this brand punching well above its weight. This popcorn is great, it has a perfect balance of salty and sweet flavors with a great fluffy texture. The only downside here is that for whatever reason, this popcorn has a lot of kernel shards.

Eating a bag of this will require some after-movie flossing.

The Bottom Line:

Don’t sleep on Kroger just because it’s a generic store brand, this is simply one of the best-tasting microwave popcorns you’ll find for a price this low.

2. Cousin Willie’s — Movie Theater Butter

Cousin Willie's
WalMart

Price: $2.49

Cousin Willie’s looks like a disaster, it has probably the worst box art of all the microwave popcorn brands (or the best depending on whether you’re high or not) and it’s dirt cheap but goddamn is it delicious. If you like your popcorn practically dripping with butter, this is your brand.

It’s very salty and butter-forward and actually has that movie theater popcorn smell. While the flavor is good, it’s not made using the purest of ingredients, instead, its seasoned with ‘”artificial flavors” with added beta-carotene for color.

The Bottom Line:

If all you care about is flavor, this is your brand, if you want something better sourced, hit our number one pick.

1. Orville Redenbacher’s — Movie Theater Butter

Popcorn Blind
Walmart

Price: $6.36

Orville Redenbacher’s Movie Theater Butter is hands down the best microwave popcorn brand on the market and the only one that deserves permanent shelf space in your pantry. In researching the brand, I found out that Orville is actually the brand of popcorn that most big movie chains carry — so it’s no surprise that this one capture that movie theater magic so closely.

It’s not just the appetizing smell and heavy butter-forward flavor that makes Orville our number one choice, it’s the kernels themselves, which pop up nice and big — offering a fluffy bite with a great texture and mouthfeel that tastes akin to stove-top popcorn. There is enough buttery flavor here to satisfy even the biggest butter lovers and it tastes even better when you melt your own over it and toss it in a bowl.

The Bottom Line:

If you’re looking for the best popcorn to stock on your movie nights, Orville Redenbacher is the way to go. In addition to the great buttery flavor, the fluffy texture and consistent popping make it so that your first handful of popcorn is as good as what’s at the bottom of the bag.

×