What Is Flavacol And What's It Got To Do With Movie Theater Popcorn?

Many would agree that the best-tasting popcorn comes from the movie theater — even microwaveable popcorn that claims to taste just like the theater often falls short. Fans who wish they could enjoy that movie-ready taste morning or night (after all, popcorn was once a popular breakfast food) may find it impossible to recreate the same warm, buttery, perfectly salty kernels in their own kitchens. What's the big secret to the corn you can't stop eating when you're watching the latest blockbuster? It's a product called Flavacol.

In basic terms, Flavacol is a butter-flavored salt. It's very fine in size, artificially colored, and gets its taste from artificial butter flavor. It's not exactly high in nutritional value, but that's the tradeoff for the perfect theater taste. At most theaters, Flavacol is added to unpopped kernels along with oil (which is often butter-flavored, as well). Because the seasoning is so fine, it sticks very well to the kernels, unlike kosher salt or table salt, which tend to fall right off of popped corn. 

The orange-yellow color of Flavacol is what makes popcorn look like it's coated with melted butter, and the butter flavoring keeps you munching on it from the time you take your seat and right through the whole movie. And if you think this product seems like a newfangled thing, and that theaters probably used real butter in decades past, that isn't really true.

Where does Flavacol come from?

Flavacol is made in Cincinnati, Ohio by Gold Medal Products, where it has been manufactured since the 1960s. According to the company, the product is used by nearly all prominent movie theaters in the U.S. to make their popcorn. While Gold Medal does sell its products directly to consumers, its major customer base is large-scale operations like theaters, carnivals, and amusement parks, so the volumes of Flavacol sold every year are quite large. However, you can get smaller, conveniently-sized packaged of the product through Amazon to make "family-sized" batches of popcorn. You'll truly have that irreplaceable movie theater taste.

Part of what sets Flavacol apart from other popcorn seasonings is that it's made using the Alberger process, a manufacturing method that results in pyramid-shaped crystals of salt. These stick to the popcorn kernels better and provide a more even coverage, compared to cube-shaped salt. The company also makes several types of their popcorn seasoning salt, including a version with sweetener and one that is colorless, but it's the original version that comes in a fun milk carton-shaped container. You might even spy a carton at the concession stand in your local movie theater.

Making movie theater popcorn without Flavacol

If you'd rather leave Flavacol for the cineplex, you can still make your own version of epic movie theater popcorn at home. Start by opting for yellow corn kernels, which produce fluffier popcorn than white corn. Unless you're using an air-popping machine, you'll need some fat to pop your corn in. If you make certain oil mistakes, your popcorn might burn, so select an oil with a high smoke point, like canola or peanut oil. Use plenty of it to prevent burning. 

You can certainly drizzle real melted butter over your popcorn, but remember that it won't coat the snack the way the "butter" at the theater does. Once it cools, butter will solidify on the individual pieces and stick to the bowl. Powdered popcorn seasonings are a better option. These products are very finely-ground to stick to the kernels better, and they come in a range of flavors beyond the classic butter.

The best part about making popcorn at home is that you can truly make it your own. Toss it with pretzels, chocolate candies, gummy bears, cereal, peanuts, or drizzle the corn with caramel and chocolate sauces for a sweet version. If savory popcorn is more your style, top your bowl with lemon zest, chopped herbs like rosemary or thyme, finely ground parmesan cheese, ground black pepper, or a shake of smoked paprika.