We Tried 10 Popular Microwave Popcorns, and This Was the Best
If we were to rank our all-time favorite snack, popcorn would definitely be No. 1. Think about is: Is there any singular food that is as endlessly, mindlessly munch-able than these pillow-y soft kernels? Nope! And the best thing about popcorn is that it can be ready and piping hot in three minutes or fewer, thanks to the microwave. But when you walk into the store, you’re likely to see many different boxes of buttery, salty morsels that you can choose from. Which microwave popcorn is the best one? We decided to find out with a blind taste test.
To conduct our taste test, we scoured the Internet and grocery stores in Downtown Brooklyn and bought as many boxes of microwavable butter-flavored popcorn as we could find. No extra butter or pre-popped bags of popcorn allowed. We wound up with 10 different brands.
Then, we did what anyone with a microwave would do: cooked all of the bags according to package directions (no popcorn buttons allowed!) and poured them into 10 identical paper bowls, labeling them with numbers. After that was all sorted, seven Daily Meal staffers came into a conference room and blindly tasted the popcorns, rating them on a scale of 1 to 10 and adding their notes about the butter flavor, saltiness, texture, appearance and kernel texture/size.
The results of our taste test, frankly, stunned us. Classic brands stumbled while dark horse popcorns popped to the top. And honestly, our favorite popcorn may just surprise you too.
#10 Tiny But Mighty
True to its name, the popped kernels in Tiny But Mighty’s popcorn are, well, tiny. According to the packaging, this is so it’s “easy to digest” and less likely to get stuck in one’s teeth, a common issue with popcorn. However, in a blind taste test, this feature threw us off. While one taster thought the mini kernels were “cute,” most found them “sad,” “pale” and “weird.” The lack of an artificial yellow color and flavor was the only highlight of this brand. Generally, Tiny But Mighty was found to be dry and flavorless.
#9 Act II
If you want to have a butter-flavored popcorn but don’t like a particularly strong salty or fake butter element, then Act II may just be right for you. One taster described this popcorn best by noting that it had “an OK texture and good kernel size, but it’s barely buttery or salty.” While most tasters didn’t like that, two appreciated the flavor that others called bland. “Not salty at all, but I like that,” one noted.
#8 Skinny Pop
While the vast majority of microwave popcorn brands come in bags, Skinny Pop is unique in that it comes in boxes, which can be handy because it eliminates the need for a bowl. That seems to be the best feature or Skinny Pop, which several tasters noted had a “slightly sweet” flavor and an off-putting aftertaste.
Quinn’s Real Butter & Sea Salt flavor is markedly different than other popcorn brands. Instead of having the butter and salt infused in the bag and kernels, you pop the popcorn, add in oil and then add in the butter and sea salt flavorings, which come in packets. Despite shaking the seasonings and oil in thoroughly while making it, this process left pockets of seasoning that tasted less like butter and sea salt and more like “cheddar” to a vast majority of our tasters. “This is good, but not if you want butter popcorn,” one tester wrote. And despite the all-natural ingredients and organic kernels, one taster said this brand was “clearly artificial.”
#6 Pop Secret
Pop Secret has a massively buttery popcorn without actually being an extra butter popcorn. “Woah! So much butter flavor. Greasy fingers for days,” one taster noted. Others thought this brand had elements of the much-beloved (and ridiculously unhealthy) movie theatre popcorn. All of this buttery flavor made Pop Secret a divisive choice. Other notable features of Pop Secret included a light, fluffy texture and big kernels, which make for easy snacking – assuming you have plenty of napkins handy.
#5 Newman’s Own
It would make sense that our No. 5 popcorn, Newman’s Own, would be reviewed as middle-of-the-road by most of our tasters. “Fine? This has a pretty balanced salt-to-butter ratio, but it’s nothing to write home about,” one tester remarked. “Nothing special” was the comment du jour for this brand, with cries for more butter being the most common criticism.
#4 Orville Redenbacher
Perhaps the most iconic popcorn brand in our taste test, Orville Redenbacher clocked in at No. 4 overall. Comments such as “nice, big kernels” and “good color” hinted at this brand’s reputation as the standard. But perhaps standard here was too typical for our tasters, one of whom described this popcorn as “B A S I C.” The other common comment was that this brand tasted like artificial butter, but this is microwave popcorn we’re talking about here. That’s a good thing for our tasters.
#3 Jolly Time
A good butter popcorn, whether or not it’s microwavable, needs balance, and that’s something our staff found with Jolly Time. “Feels light, but it’s still flavorful,” one taster commented. Most tasters found this classic popcorn company had the right amount of butter, a “nice kernel size” and the iconic light yellow color one looks for in popcorn.
#2 Market Pantry
There are a lot of groceries you should buy at Target, and perhaps popcorn is one of them! We popped in to this cult favorite retailer for some of their Market Pantry branded microwave popcorn and were pleasantly surprised. “The buttery flavor of this one is perfect!” one tester noted. Several popcorn aficionados distinctly called this brand out for being artificial tasting and having a slightly off texture, but that isn’t always a bad thing for a microwave popcorn. “A classic artificial butter flavor!” one exclaimed.
#1 Stop & Shop
Call us #basic all you want, but our top brand surprised even us. Stop & Shop, the Northeastern supermarket chain, had our favorite bag of microwave popcorn. Maybe it’s because we’re all broke journalists who buy store brands, but this popcorn was “the gold standard” for one tester. Others appreciated the butter-to-salt ratio, big kernel size and how this popcorn just “melts in your mouth.” As it turns out, you really can skip the name brand and just go generic with your popcorn. While you’re at it, maybe buy these other foods generic too.
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