Taste Test: The Best Popcorns

We taste-tested dozens of microwave popcorns from the grocery store and online to find our favorites.
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BEST BUTTER

Orville Redenbacher's Tender White

Many butter popcorn varieties were a scary shade of yellow, but this one, flavored with real butter, popped up bright white. It scored big with tasters for its "great saltiness, natural butter flavor" and "melt-in-your-mouth texture." ($2.65 for 3 bags, at grocery stores)

CLOSE SECOND

Wild Oats Organic Butter Flavor

Even in our blind test, tasters picked up on the simplicity of this health-food store's organic popcorn: "It tastes stove-popped." ($2.80 for 3 bags, wildoats.com for stores)

BEST NATURAL

Jolly Time Crispy 'n White, Natural Flavor

Simple as it sounds, good natural popcorn isn't easy to find: Our panel labeled most varieties either tasteless or overly salty. This "perfectly seasoned" version won raves for its "airy texture" and "pure corn flavor." Tasters also preferred the small, white kernels to other brands' traditional yellow ones. ($2.50 for 3 bags, at grocery stores)

BEST KETTLE CORN

Black Jewell Old Fashioned Premium Kettle Corn

A 10-person Illinois company developed these distinctive black kernels, which pop up snow-white and taste slightly sweet. The corn won over the judges for its classic kettle-corn taste. Said one tester: "It takes me right back to the state fair." ($3 for 3 bags, at grocery stores)

BEST LIGHT

Pop Secret 94% Fat Free Butter

Some of the light popcorns we tasted could have passed for Styrofoam packing peanuts, but Pop Secret's "great crunch" and "real-tasting butter flavor" is as tasty as you'll get for 2 grams of fat per serving -- a whopping 10 grams fewer than the original. ($2.69 for 3 bags, at grocery stores)

BEST MOVIE-THEATER STAND-IN

Act II Movie Theatre Butter

This popcorn had all the "buttery goodness" of its concession-stand counterpart and scored extra points for "puffy kernels." It's available by the box or, better yet, by the tub. Either way, you'll need plenty of napkins, a great flick and a giant box of candy on the side. ($2 for 3 bags, at grocery stores; $2 for a 4.2-ounce tub, at grocery stores and Blockbuster stores)

BEST ODDBALL

Orville Redenbacher's Natural Buttery Salt & Cracked Pepper

Even after tasting pounds of popcorn, our judges ate this peppery batch by the fistful, raving, "It tastes like mashed potatoes." Part of Orville Redenbacher's natural line, it oughta be good -- company researchers chose it from 200 potential new flavors. ($2.65 for 3 bags, at grocery stores)

Prices and other details were accurate when we published this article in October 2007.

 

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