Popcorn can be both a healthy and a tasty snack. Popcorn itself doesn’t have a high calorie or fat content. However, many people use cooking oil to pop it. Many oils are high in calories, and because oils are lipids, they have a high-fat content. Fortunately, because different kinds of fats have different effects on the body, certain oils are better for you than others. Let’s take a look at the different types of oils, their qualities, and discover the healthiest oil for popcorn.
Types of Oils for Popcorn
There are many different oils on the market available to consumers. Here are some of the most common ones used to cook popcorn.
Canola oil is vegetable-based, meaning that it is derived from a plant, specifically a genetically modified rapeseed plant. One tablespoon of canola oil contains just over 120 calories. It is often considered a heart-friendly oil due to its fat composition. Canola oil has low saturated fats, which is good because saturated fats can raise cholesterol and contribute to heart disease.
Though its fat composition is pretty good, some brands contain artificial trans fat despite the FDA and WHO ban, which is bad because it raises bad cholesterol and lowers good cholesterol. Canola oil is still a popular choice for popcorn due to its high heat capabilities and neutral taste.
Olive Oil/Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Olive Oil is extracted from olives, the fruit of the olive tree. Extra virgin olive oil is the purest of olive oils because it is only cold-pressed olives with no processed oils, which keeps the nutritional value intact.
Olive oil, in general, has just under 120 calories per tablespoon and very minimal saturated fats. It has a lower smoke point than canola oil and has more of a flavor but still can be used for popcorn.
The best and purest coconut oil comes from fresh, mature coconuts, though there are a lot of impure brands on the market in which high heat and chemicals are used in the processing. Coconut oil contains about 121 calories per tablespoon, but almost all of the fat it contains is saturated fat.
There are many different studies that show some health benefits and others that contradict those same studies. Coconut oil can still be used in popcorn making as long as it is pure coconut oil without chemicals because it has a high smoke point and neutral flavor.
Sunflower oil is plant-derived, though there are four different kinds found in the US. All of them have 120 calories per tablespoon and very low saturated fat, just below olive oil. This seems like a great oil to use for popcorn, but sunflower oil can become mildly toxic when heated too hot, so it is better for salad dressings and other non-frying cooking.
Peanut oil is a vegetable oil derived from the peanut plant. Different types of peanut oil come from different processing methods. It makes the flavor range from very mild to pungent and nutty. It has about 119 calories per tablespoon like most other oils and low saturated fat. It holds up to high heat and, for that reason, is very common in frying. Peanut oil can be a good choice for popcorn.
Pure avocado oil is extracted from the fleshy part of the avocado. It has a very high smoke point, the highest of all oils, making it a versatile cooking oil. Its nutrition information is quite similar to olive oil, with 120 calories per tablespoon and the same low amount of saturated fat. The difference is in the higher smoke point and the mild flavor, making it a good candidate for popcorn.
Movie Theatre Popcorn
Now that we have gone over the various types of cooking oils used with popcorn, you probably wonder which one the movie theaters use, and with good reason! It’s a flavor we all know and love. Theaters typically use either canola oil, coconut oil, or a blend of the two. However, it is not the oil that gives it that iconic taste because both oils are mild in flavor.
What gives movie popcorn the buttery taste is the butter-flavored oil that they pour on top. It’s not actually butter! Movie theater popcorn aside, let’s find out what the healthiest cooking oil is for popping popcorn (and whether the theaters use the right one!).
Best Oil for Popcorn
Ultimately, there are several healthy oils to keep popcorn a healthy snack. Our top choices for making popcorn would be avocado oil, olive oil, and peanut oil. Canola oil can be a good choice as well, as long as you choose a brand that does not contain trans fat.
We chose these cooking oils because they are low in saturated fat, which is the main factor that makes some oils unhealthy, and they can withstand the high heat that popcorn needs to pop.
When choosing popcorn oil, always consider whether it can be heated to high temperatures, what kind of fat composition it has, and what kind of flavor it has. You should be looking for a high smoke point, low saturated fats, no trans fat, and mild flavor for making the best tasting, healthiest popcorn. Happy healthy snacking!
What oil should you use for popcorn?
You should use avocado oil, olive oil, peanut oil, or canola oil for popcorn. These oils are packed with healthy fats and can stand up to the high heat cooking that popcorn requires.
Is popcorn with olive oil healthy?
Yes, popcorn with olive oil is healthy. The one thing to keep in mind is that olive oil can leave popcorn with a bit of a nutty flavor, which isn’t a bad thing but can be unexpected. If the taste bothers you, choose a different oil with an almost neutral flavor instead.
What kind of oil do movie theaters use for popcorn?
Movie theaters use canola oil, coconut oil, or a blend of both for their popcorn. That famous buttery flavor comes from what they put on it, not the oil that it’s popped with.
What is the healthiest popcorn?
The healthiest popcorn is air-popped popcorn that doesn’t require any popcorn oil, which adds calories and fat. If you think this sounds a little bland, you can still have healthy popcorn by using an air-popper and a little popcorn seasoning or nutritional yeast on top.