Does Movie Theater Popcorn Use Real Butter?

Many of us go to the movies to escape reality. We immerse ourselves for a few hours in another world and perhaps see through the eyes of another character. And one of the best parts of going to the movies? Yup, it's the popcorn. Super-sized and oh-so-delicious. But before we accept that bucket of goodness, we have to decide if we want extra butter layered on. 

More butter is frequently the way movie-goers choose. But if you've watched carefully, the stuff the person at the refreshments counter pumps all over your popcorn doesn't really look like butter. It's a clear golden color, without any of the separations of milk solids we're accustomed to seeing in regular melted butter. So, what exactly is it? 

If you expect the answer to be less-than-nutritionally ideal, you're right, but there is some good news. The stuff that makes movie theater popcorn so darn appetizing is both vegan and gluten-free. Unfortunately, the rest of the story isn't exactly ideal.

Two ingredients give movie theater popcorn its distinctive flavor

The first ingredient in movie theater popcorn is one you've probably never heard of — Flavacol. It's manufactured by Gold Medal and is a butter-flavored seasoned salt that's specially processed to make it finer so it adheres better to the popcorn. It's added to the popcorn kernels while they're popping, and it contains salt, artificial butter flavor, and yellow dyes that give the popcorn its golden color. 

While Flavacol doesn't contain any real butter, it also doesn't have any fat, carbs, or calories. What it does contain is sodium — one teaspoon of Flavacol has 2,780 milligrams of salt or 116% of the recommended daily intake of sodium, according to Livestrong. But what about that golden liquid that drenches your popcorn and, incidentally, contains zero actual butter? What replaces real butter is quite a list — partially hydrogenated soybean oil, beta carotene, tertiary butylhydroquinone, and polydimethylsiloxane. 

Sure, the chemicals may not sound appetizing, but what's even more disappointing is that the buttery flavoring contains more calories than actual butter. The reason theatres do this is that this type of oil contains less water than butter, which means the final product has less chance of turning out soggy. So, the next time you head to the movies, you may want to opt for cooking your own kernels at home and bringing them with you.