11 Microwave Popcorn Flavors, Ranked Worst To Best

Popcorn is an all-time culinary classic. It's a beloved snack that pairs perfectly with movies, game nights, and casual unwinding with friends and family. There's something indescribably comforting about cozying up on the couch with a big bowl of crunchy, salty, and deeply nourishing popcorn. According to the United States Census Bureau, Americans consume 14 billion quarts of popcorn each year. Microwave popcorn makes your path to enjoying this savory, sometimes sweet treat even easier.

Microwave popcorn has a long shelf life, with safe storage in your cupboard for six to eight months. Among its many desirable qualities is the ease with which microwave popcorn can be prepared — in a matter of minutes — and its health benefits. On its own, popcorn has a high fiber content and a generally low-calorie count.

One of popcorn's greatest wonders is that its taste is totally adaptable based on the flavors you're craving. Looking for something creamy and buttery? What about sweet and salty? Want something cheesy? How about hot and spicy? To get you prepped for your next popcorn night, we've ranked 11 microwave popcorn flavors from worst to best.

Kettle Corn

Kettle corn is a beloved popcorn style with deep roots in American tradition. A trip to the fair or carnival isn't complete without a stop for some piping hot, sweet, and salty popcorn at the kettle corn booth. One of the things that makes kettle corn, kettle corn, is that the popcorn is made with mushroom kernels instead of butterfly.

Butterfly is the most common style of popcorn kernel. It's used almost exclusively by microwave popcorn brands and at concession stands selling butter popcorn in movie theaters. You can identify butterfly kernels based on the popped shape of the popcorn, which is open and expansive—resembling a butterfly if you look closely. Mushroom popcorn kernels pop into a compact circle, which allows the popcorn to carry added seasonings or flavors very effectively.

Unfortunately, most microwave popcorn brands don't use mushroom kernels in their kettle corn, which can limit the flavor intensity and fundamentally change the popcorn eating experience. Beyond the kernel inauthenticity, the kettle corn flavor of microwave popcorn falters because of sucralose, a sugar substitute that tastes overly saccharine. The flavor is intensely off-putting and leaves a sharp lingering aftertaste. 

Microwave kettle corn tries too hard to replicate a taste that can't be easily packaged. It doesn't come close to achieving the classic sweet and salty pairing of its carnival counterpart.

No Oil or Salt Added

The American Heart Association considers popcorn a relatively healthy snack as it has "ample dietary fiber and [a] typically low calorie count." Over the years, one of the most common health concerns over the consumption of microwave popcorn has been the semi-regular inclusion of the chemical diacetyl, which mimics the taste of butter and has been linked to serious lung problems. Fortunately, in 2007, several brands vowed to stop using diacetyl in their microwave popcorn, including Orville Redenbacher, ACT II, Pop Secret, Pop Weaver, and Jolly Time. This means you can enjoy your popcorn with relatively few health concerns — of course, depending on what flavor of popcorn you purchase.

No Oil or Salt Added microwave popcorn is the most basic and arguably healthiest flavor of popcorn on the market. There's zero sodium or cholesterol, which makes it heart healthy. Sadly, this popcorn has barely any flavor. The best part of No Oil or Salt Added popcorn is its texture, which is satisfyingly crunchy. But in terms of taste, this popcorn is overly dry and lacking in depth.


Barbecue is another favorite American pastime. Don't have a grill? Not a problem. That satisfying sweet and smoky flavor can be found in countless packaged snack items, including potato chips, jerky, roasted nuts, and even microwave popcorn. The taste of barbecue is beloved because it combines elements of sugar and heat, amplifying the food it's in relation to. On popcorn, barbecue seasonings are divine — a way to intensify flavors by adding a tangy punch. But just like trying to simulate kettle corn, tackling too many complex spices in a package of microwave popcorn isn't always successful.

While we generally love anything barbecue style, in the microwave popcorn we tried, the taste was disappointing. Its greatest strength is its smoky scent, which conjures notes of hickory and a faint cherry sweetness. The popcorn's texture is also satisfying—the kernels are crunchy but not too dry because of the ample oil. 

But the taste is where things fall short. While we appreciated the pairing of sweetness and heat, the barbecue popcorn is similarly too saccharine, just like the kettle corn, due to the same use of sucralose. Sucralose is the main ingredient in Splenda and is actually made from real sugar. Because of a change in its chemical structure, sucralose is calorie-free and tastes 600 times sweeter. While at first the sweetness paired with the smokiness in this popcorn was enjoyable, the extreme sugary taste quickly overpowered the popcorn and the lack of salt disrupted the flavor balance.

Hot & Spicy

Hot & Spicy was probably created to be the Flamin' Hot® Cheetos of popcorn. What makes Flamin' Hot® Cheetos so extraordinary—so extraordinary that a film directed by Eva Longoria was recently made about its invention — is that the taste is addicting. No, really. The sensation you experience when eating Flamin' Hot® Cheetos is because of a release of natural endorphins, which makes you feel good and encourages you to keep consuming the source of your joy.

We hoped Hot & Spicy popcorn would bring us just as much heat and happiness, but the microwave variety didn't totally live up to our expectations. Hot & Spicy popcorn has an intense aroma, and the kernels are crunchy and nicely coated in oil, but overall, the taste is somewhat lacking. Most Hot & Spicy microwave popcorn is made with both natural and artificial peppers and contains a large amount of sodium, but the popcorn we tried could've used more salt. Worst of all, the popcorn had heat without real flavor. If you're looking for popcorn with a kick, you might be better off adding citric acid to your own popcorn to create a tangy complexity.

Extreme Butter

Butter is the flavor we most associate with popcorn. It's the style that's sold at movie theaters nationwide — churned into popcorn machines at the concession stand and available to be drizzled over the already buttered popcorn for an extra hit of scrumptious, warm, liquid nourishment. Extreme Butter is one of the only microwave popcorn flavors we tried that is actually made with real butter. This fact alone made us anticipate buttery kernels that are equally rich and creamy. What we found surprised us.

The flavor of butter in Extreme Butter popcorn was inconsistent. The kernels varied in color from white to bright yellow depending on how the butter in the microwave bag was distributed. This led to a general unevenness, with some pieces tasting very buttery and others tasting bland. 

The level of salt in the Extreme Butter popcorn was on the lower end, which took away some of our pleasure. Interestingly, even though there's real butter in this popcorn, the level of oil is fairly low, leaving the kernels crisp but a little dry.


If you're jonesing for a sweet and salty treat like kettle corn but interested in a little more decadence, we recommend trying caramel microwave popcorn. Caramel is made from heating sugar until it breaks down and assumes a rich golden brown color. The mouthwateringly indulgent flavor is aided by the addition of milk, cream, or butter. On its own, the heated sugar molecules release a delicious smell that evokes that buttery richness you've likely come to associate with caramel.

In the world of microwave popcorn, you have choices between more natural and less natural varieties of caramel popcorn. Pop Secret's Sweet 'n Crunchy Caramel popcorn has no high fructose corn syrup but instead relies on our old friend sucralose to conjure that taste of sweetness. The aroma of the microwave caramel popcorn comes close to the real thing, and the flavor achieves caramel decadence, but the combination of oil and artificial additives leaves the kernels both too soft and too dry. The aftertaste, which we also experienced with the microwave Kettle Corn, can be overpowering and detract from the experience.

Light Butter

Light Butter is the kind of microwave popcorn you reach for when you're looking for a treat, but you don't want to overdo it. True to its name, the flavors in Light Butter are subtle, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Instead of going too heavy on the artificial flavorings, like its kettle corn counterpart, Light Butter leans into moderation, leaving you with popcorn that has just the right amount of salt and butter, so you can enjoy a bowl without the creeping feeling of over-indulgence. 

The simplicity of this popcorn matches not only its name but also its ingredients, which include only the very basics: palm oil, sea salt, and natural flavor. Light Butter isn't the kind of popcorn that can stand up to the movie theater popcorn of your childhood, but that doesn't mean it's tasteless. Light Butter achieves a buttery creaminess that is balanced and sure to scratch your popcorn itch.


Out of the many things to love about popcorn, our favorite is that you can completely change the taste of the kernels by pairing them with any number of additional flavorings. You can turn popcorn into a sweet and salty treat by opting for kettle corn or caramel. Or, if you want something nice and smoky, you can enjoy barbecue or hot & spicy. If you're craving a late-night snack that's equal parts cheesy and salty, look no further than cheddar microwave popcorn. 

You might be skeptical of this flavor, and if you are, we certainly wouldn't blame you. We weren't expecting to enjoy cheddar so thoroughly, but the intense cheesiness it achieved floored us.

Cheddar microwave popcorn captures all of the savory goodness you'd expect from a cheese plate with the joy of a butterfly popcorn kernel to serve as a vehicle for maximum saltiness and creaminess. The kernels here are on the softer side, but that doesn't bother us because the popcorn is loaded with lots of cheese and oil. Cheddar popcorn is surprisingly lower in fat and cholesterol than many of the other popcorn flavors on this list, and the taste is satisfying and decadent.

While cheddar microwave popcorn is undeniably delicious, it isn't made with many natural ingredients. If you're interested in popcorn that has lots of flavor without anything artificial, or if you're just looking for complexity without any dairy, instead try adding soy sauce to your popcorn for a kick of savory umami.

Extra Butter

Extra Butter is your quintessential microwave-buttered popcorn flavor. The aroma is intense and the taste is truly decadent. We were delighted to discover that notwithstanding the hearty quantity of palm oil, the Extra Butter popcorn kernels have a pleasurably addicting crunch. 

We believe texture is essential in the realm of popcorn. The three main components we look for are texture, smell, and flavor. Though the name, Extra Butter may lead you to imagine kernels dripping in yellow, this microwave popcorn variety is as interested in salt as it is in butter. The ratio of the two is practically perfect here. The salt makes this popcorn unputdownable without overpowering the delicate creamy flavor of butter. 

One of the things that surprised us most about Extra Butter is the regular addition of two unexpected ingredients: citric acid and paprika. While the taste of citrus and the spicy sweetness of red pepper isn't overt in any of the Extra Butter popcorns we tried, the complexity and depth of flavor was always apparent.

Sea Salt

Popcorn goes with salt like bread goes with butter. In sea salt microwave popcorn, the salt is the star of the show. Salt is one of the most beloved cooking ingredients because of its  glorious ability to enhance the flavors around it. When paired with popcorn, salt amplifies the taste of the palm or olive oil, which creates a wondrous aroma and an intense creaminess. Because sea salt popcorn isn't weighed down by butter or artificial butter flavoring, the popcorn kernels are light and airy. The crispness gives you an immensely pleasing microwave popcorn experience. 

As a bonus, the ingredients in sea salt popcorn couldn't be simpler. There's oil, salt, and vitamin E for freshness. Refreshingly, that simplicity doesn't translate to a lack of flavor. Instead, it centers on the addictive nature of salt and the nourishing taste of oil. Sea salt popcorn is a flavor of popcorn you can enjoy all day long — it achieves the rare feat of being both light and satisfying.

Movie Theater Butter

Popcorn was made for the movies and Movie Theater Butter popcorn is the ultimate testament to that pairing. Our favorite popcorn flavor is wonderfully reminiscent of what you'd hope to find at your local theater. It's perfectly salted and quite literally dripping with butter. Almost every popcorn brand we tried had a variation of Movie Theater Butter and each one had an intensely creamy flavor and a strong counterbalance of salt. 

The microwave popcorn industry has made strides in recent years to rid its products of harmful chemicals. While the current crop of microwave popcorn in the market isn't faultless, all of the Movie Theater Butter flavors we tried had far fewer ingredients than we expected. Our favorite Movie Theater Butter popcorn with all-natural ingredients include Newman's Own, Orville Redenbacher, and Act II. The only downside to Movie Theater Butter is that the kernels are slightly less crispy than some of our other favorites, but we're willing to accept a softer texture in order to savor that oily, buttery goodness.