“Once you pop, the fun don’t stop” may be the retired slogan of a beloved saddle-shaped potato chip, but it’s the permanent one for America’s favorite light, airy, no-frills snack: microwavable popcorn.
Of course, no packaged variety will compare to the freshly-popped movie theater variety doused in “butter-flavored topping,” but there are plenty of mainstream brands that like to think they’re pretty darn close in achieving that craveable salty, oily bite .
I pitted six microwavable popcorns against each other in the ultimate taste test battle, taking characteristics like crunch, ease of cooking and flavor into consideration when ranking our favorites.
Here are my final results, ranked from worst to best.
6. Angie’s BoomChickaPop Real Butter Popcorn
This ranking was a shocker for me because I really love the brand’s line of pre-popped options. They come in a handful of fun flavors like Rosé and Salted Maple and are always health-conscious with the use of ingredients like avocado oil and sea salt. The microwavable bag wasn’t terrible by any means, but it had quite the off-putting sour smell as it was popping in the microwave. It was, however, one of the lightest and fluffiest of the bunch, which made the bag easy to consume in larger quantities. Unfortunately, the flavor was lackluster and almost non-existent, so it didn’t feel special. And if I’m sitting down for a Netflix binge and opting for a snack to munch on for literal hours, I want that eating experience to feel nothing less than special.
5. Act II Butter Lovers Microwave Popcorn
I can understand the mainstream appeal of this popcorn with its greasy, salty decadence, but I also found the texture to be a tad hard to swallow. It was the most cardboard-esque of the bunch and the flavor was borderline artificial. That said, each bite certainly felt like an indulgence. It was heavy, butter-laden and rich, though I think these qualities could have been amped up even more, especially if you’re going to boldly include a term like “Butter Lovers” in your name. I needed it to feel like I was practically rubbing a stick of butter on every crevice of each popped kernel — and that was definitely not the case.
4. Pop Secret Homestyle Butter Premium Popcorn
Out of all options on this list, Pop Secret’s tasted the most like legitimate butter. Did it rival what you’d taste in a movie theater? Of course not. But was it creamy with a hint of sweetness? Absolutely, which made it rank higher than its other yellow-coated counterpart, Act II. This did feel like it would upset my stomach after a few handfuls, so be sure to exercise some restraint before nose-diving into a bag. I’d also recommend adding a seasoning or herb like garlic powder or even rosemary to offset its one-notedness.
3. Orville Redenbacher’s Butter Gourmet Popping Corn
Orville had the only bag with flavors that presented as afternotes and not as an immediate assault to the taste buds. Instead of being hit by salt or butter from the start, it sort of kissed the palate on the way down. Many consumers may dismiss this as “bland,” but I interpreted it more as “snackable.” In fact, it was the bag I finished quickest because it was so easy to toss back fistfuls without even realizing it. Unique and special? Not particularly. Addictive? Absolutely. This is a great option to serve at parties because it won’t distract from other foods, but will have your guests coming back for more.
2. Skinnygirl Popcorn
My No. 2 choice is going to be controversial because there was virtually zero trace of butter but a whole lotta salt — and the salt is quite excessive. But, frankly, what’s the point of partaking in a popcorn bingefest if the snack doesn’t have you reaching for a glass of water every five minutes? Have a full pitcher on standby to enjoy this bag that can practically call itself a bag of pretzels. But if you have high blood pressure or you’re trying to cut back on sodium intake, avoid it like a bad fashion choice you made in the ’90s.
1. 365 Organic Buttery Flavor Microwave Popcorn
This may have been the most oily of the bunch, but it was offset by a wonderful earthy flavor that blew its competition out of the microwave. There was a complexity to each and every bite, which I hadn’t really experienced before (because popcorn isn’t the most exciting food in the world, unless doused in caramel or cheese). But good on you, Whole Foods, for honoring the kernel and not the additives. The grocery store’s commitment to celebrating the simple, high-quality flavors its organic products really showed and this has now become a permanent staple in my pantry.