How to Make Air Popped Popcorn (2024)

Updated: Jan. 05, 2021

If you want to enjoy popcorn as a healthy snack, you should probably learn how to make air popped popcorn. We'll show you how, with and without an air popper.

Popcorn is everywhere in American culture. We eat it at sporting events, send each other tubs of caramel corn for the holidays and string it up around the Christmas tree as an edible decoration. Half the fun of going to the movie theater is eating a bag of ultra-greasy, buttery popcorn!

While microwave popcorn has become the norm in most households, traditional popcorn-making methods have regained popularity. Not only that, but air poppers that were once reserved for carnivals and movie theaters have shrunk in size to fit on the countertop, opening up a whole new world of homemade popcorn options. We’ll show you how to make air popped popcorn—with and without an air popper.

What Is Air Popped Popcorn?

Although you can make air popped popcorn in the microwave (and we’ll tell you how in a minute), it’s traditionally made with a special appliance. The air popper circulates hot air around the popcorn kernels. When it gets hot enough, the kernels pop, forcing them out of the popping bowl and into a storage area. They’re used at movie theaters and carnivals, and they were once so large they were impractical for home use. Today, you’ll find electric versions small enough to fit on the countertop.

Movie-theater popcorn might be far from healthy, but air popped popcorn is actually one of the healthiest kinds of popcorn. It doesn’t require any oil to cook—that’s added later to create flavor. This type of popcorn is also hard to burn or overcook since the popcorn is no longer in contact with heat after it pops.

Air Popped Popcorn vs. Microwave Popcorn

The major difference between air popped popcorn and microwave popcorn is the way the kernels are heated. An air popper uses hot air to heat the kernels. The microwave, on the other hand, sends microwaves (radio wave particles) through the kernels. The kernels are kept in a bag to trap steam and help the popcorn pop.

An air popper doesn’t require any added oil or flavorings, but store-bought microwave popcorn has additional ingredients, like salt, oil and chemical flavorings that taste like butter. The bags themselves also contain perfluorinated compounds (PFCs), which keep oil from seeping through the container. These chemicals make their way into the popped popcorn, leading many to question whether microwave popcorn is healthy.

How to Air Pop Popcorn

There are dozens of electric air poppers that make it easy to pop popcorn without using any oil. They range in size and storability, and some are louder than others. We tested several different brands to find the best air popped popcorn makers.

You can also make air popped popcorn in a bag in the microwave. Better yet, pick up a reusable microwave popcorn maker, like this collapsible Cuisinart container. They allow you to pop popcorn with or without oil, and they’re easier to clean and store than a dedicated appliance.

We’ve also had success making air popped popcorn in an air fryer, like the Ninja Max XL Air Fryer. You’ll definitely want to line the bottom of the bowl with aluminum foil to keep from making a mess, though.

How do you make air popped popcorn without an air popper?

If you don’t own an electric air popper, don’t despair. You can make air popped popcorn without one! The easiest way to make air popped popcorn is in the microwave with a paper bag. Simply add the kernels to the bag, fold the top over to trap the steam inside, and microwave it on high heat for two to three minutes.

You can also make air popped popcorn in an air fryer. Preheat the air fryer to 400°F. Line the bottom of the basket with aluminum foil and add 1/2 cup of popcorn kernels in a single layer. Cook the popcorn for eight to ten minutes, turning the appliance off when you hear it stop popping. Let the popcorn rest for an extra minute or two just in case any extra kernels want to pop after the fact.

Finally, it’s not air popped popcorn, but you can also make popcorn on the stove. You’ll need a large, heavy-bottomed pot with a lid to pull it off. Heat the kernels and oil over medium heat. Once the kernels start popping, shake the pan to help the popcorn heat evenly for two to three minutes, until all the kernels have popped.

How to Season Air Popped Popcorn

Plain, air popped popcorn is a healthy snack because popcorn is a low-fat, high-fiber, whole-grain food. That said, popcorn always tastes better with a little seasoning. The seasonings stick best with added oil or butter, but spritzing the popcorn with water works almost as well for oil-free popcorn.

Our favorite simply seasoned popcorn recipe uses a little melted butter, Parmesan cheese, salt, dried oregano and garlic salt. If you want to keep things vegan-friendly, use olive oil and skip the cheese, using nutritional yeast instead. We also love adding spice to the mix, like cayenne pepper, smoked paprika or ancho chile powder. Don’t be afraid to turn your popcorn into a sweet treat, either. Try adding powdered sugar or brown sugar to your popcorn along with warming spices like cinnamon, nutmeg or cloves.

Need more inspiration? Check out these incredible flavored popcorn recipes.

How to Make Air Popped Popcorn (2024)

FAQs

How is air-popped popcorn made? ›

The air popper works by circulating the un-popped kernels with hot air. Once the kernels pop, their increased surface area allows them to be easily blown through a chute by the air. I popped the corn in the air popper until the last kernels stopped popping, which took an average of six minutes per batch.

Can you air pop popcorn without a machine? ›

The easiest way to make air popped popcorn is in the microwave with a paper bag. Simply add the kernels to the bag, fold the top over to trap the steam inside, and microwave it on high heat for two to three minutes.

Can I pop popcorn without oil? ›

Pop your popcorn in a dry pan or skillet, no oil. Controversial, I know, but I find that popping popcorn in hot oil increases the likelihood of burnt popcorn and dead kernels. Dry pan popping results in beautiful light popcorn that provides the perfect blank canvas for all your favorite seasonings.

Can I make air-popped popcorn in the microwave? ›

Oh, and a microwave! Some people use the stovetop or air popper, but the microwave works super well and is quite easy. Simply put the kernels in your bag, pop it into the microwave, and cook for two to three minutes. While the microwave is running, listen for popping.

Is it OK to eat air-popped popcorn every day? ›

Even though popcorn is healthy, it is possible to eat too much of it. Both dietitians say that eating an excessive amount of popcorn can lead to bloating, gas and constipation because of its high-fiber content—especially for people who aren't used to eating a lot of fiber.

How to make air-popped popcorn taste like movie theater? ›

Flavacol is a fine butter-flavored salt. It has a specific orange-yellowish color, which adds that signature buttery flavor and yellow hue to movie popcorn that we all crave. Use this particular salt combined with coconut or olive oil to make popcorn that tastes just like the stuff you get at the movies.

Can I make air-popped popcorn on the stove? ›

In an air-popper or on the stove, pop the popcorn kernels. (For oil-free, stove-top popcorn, use a large, non-stick pan with a lid. Bring the pan up to medium-high heat, and then pour the popcorn kernels onto the surface of the pan.

Why is my air-popped popcorn not crunchy? ›

"Chewy" popcorn is a normal characteristic when using the Hot Air Popper. It may give the perspective of being stale as well. To attempt to alleviate this, we suggest that you hydrate your corn prior to using. You perform this by adding 1 teaspoon per 1 cup of corn into an airtight container.

Is air-popped popcorn better than oil popped? ›

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), each cup of air-popped popcorn counts 31 calories. In comparison, a cup of popcorn fried in oil contains 41 calories. However, cooking popcorn in oil has a significant impact on the fat content of the popcorn.

How do you make air-popped popcorn without an air popper? ›

Place 1/4 cup popcorn kernels in a flat-bottomed brown paper lunch bag, and seal the bag by folding the top lip over twice (do not staple). Place bag on its flat side in microwave, and heat 2 to 3 minutes on high power, or until popping slows to 2- to 3-second intervals between pops.

How to flavor air-popped popcorn without oil? ›

Melt sugar in large pot on low over stove, stirring so a brown liquid forms. Then add in popped corn and stir so all sides of each puff get coated. While the sugar is still hot, sprinkle salt on top of the popcorn so it gets stuck in the sugar.

What to add to air-popped popcorn? ›

Other delicious popcorn seasonings (use instead of salt)
  1. Sriracha.
  2. Soy sauce.
  3. Nutritional or brewer's yeast.
  4. Truffle oil and Parmesan cheese.
  5. Cinnamon.
  6. Garlic powder or garlic salt.
  7. Ground coffee beans or cocoa powder, and sugar or cinnamon.
May 6, 2024

Can you pop a bag of popcorn in an air fryer oven? ›

Grab a bag of microwave popcorn, cut into the bag and pour the popcorn kernels into a bowl. The paper bag should not be placed into the air fryer to avoid a fire hazard. Line the air fryer basket with aluminum foil and crimp the sides to secure it. Add a little oil to the bowl and stir to evenly coat the kernels.

What is the best butter for air-popped popcorn? ›

Clarified butter or ghee, a type of clarified butter, is the best bet for coating your kernels. Regular butter contains water and milk solids, which lead to a soggy snack.

Can dogs have popcorn? ›

Dogs can eat popcorn as long as it's plain and air-popped popcorn, and only eaten in moderation. However, any added seasonings we love to slather on top which can be bad for dogs, and you shouldn't feed them this type of popcorn.

Is air-popped popcorn healthier? ›

Popcorn is a whole grain and a good source of fiber. And 3 cups of plain, air-popped popcorn weighs in at only about 95 calories. For the healthiest results, pop your corn in an air popper or in the microwave.

Is air-popped popcorn better for you than microwave popcorn? ›

Air-popped popcorn is a healthy snack, but it's best to avoid microwave popcorn. It is usually high in salt, which raises the risk of high blood pressure (hypertension) and stroke.

What's the difference between air-popped popcorn and regular popcorn? ›

As the name suggests, air popped popcorn is made using only hot air and no added fat, while oil popped popcorn is cooked on the stovetop with a bit of added oil. Popcorn that's been air popped contains 0.4 grams of total fat per cup, while a cup of oil popped popcorn provides 2.3 grams of fat per cup.

Is air-popped popcorn healthier than chips? ›

With 31 calories per cup, air-popped popcorn contains much fewer calories than many popular snack foods ( 4 ). One study compared feelings of fullness after eating popcorn and potato chips. They found that 15 calories of popcorn were as filling as 150 calories of potato chips ( 18 ).

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