The Special Salt That Makes Movie Theater Popcorn So Delicious

It's hard to put your finger on, but there's just something deliciously different about movie theater popcorn. You know the kind we're talking about: big, fluffy, buttery kernels popping and spilling into huge see-through glass containers. After you pay the popcorn-jail ransom, those warm, salty popped kernels get scooped into colorful red-striped bags or sharing-size buckets for your snacking pleasure. Sure, you could stay home, make popcorn, and stream movies for hours on end — but would the popcorn taste the same?

That's unlikely unless you know the secret to pro-level movie-theater popcorn. It's tempting to think it's in the butter, which has a bit of validity since there's typically no real butter, but rather a tasty butter-flavored" popcorn topping. But butter in any form isn't the real game-changer, nor are the popcorn kernels themselves. It's the seemingly humble but transformational salt.

At home, you'll typically be using ordinary table salt to season popcorn. Connoisseurs of nuanced alternatives perhaps sprinkle on some pink Himalayan or black lava salt or finish things off with a touch of flakey Malden or fleur de sel French salt. But none of those will ever turn your bowl of popcorn into anything resembling what's inside the infamous big-screen bucket. For that, you'll need a culinary specialty called Flavacol. It's a salt product specifically formulated for flavoring popcorn, typically for retailers but now available to anyone via online sellers. The way it enhances and transforms popcorn from plain to extraordinary may surprise you.

What is Flavacol and how does it make popcorn taste so good?

To keep cringing at bay, it's important to note that Flavacol is indeed real salt, not a simulated version of the sodium chloride used to season and preserve food. However, it's not a gift of Mother Nature in its purest form. To maximize performance as a popcorn enhancer, Flavacol has a different texture than granulated salt as well as some added ingredients, depending on the version you buy.

Flavacol is manufactured by Gold Medal, a concessions equipment and supplies company that furnishes movie theaters with commercial popcorn machines. It also sells needed supplies for cranking out the goodness, including its Flavacol salt. While standard crystalized salt tends to slide to the bottom of popcorn containers, Flavacol has a fine, flakey consistency that helps it stick to popped corn kernels. The company claims you get a greater salt sensation with less actual sodium. Some popcorn purveyors suggest mixing Flavacol directly into the cooking oil while popping the corn, rather than sprinkling it on afterward.

It's important to note that several versions of Flavacol exist. The standard version, sold as Flavacol 2045, contains food dyes in the forms of FD&C #5 and #6, as well as other artificial ingredients. The Premier Flavacol uses riboflavin instead for color while employing an artificial butter flavoring. The Gold Medal website goes even further by offering a Flavacol Bulk Box #2092 with no artificial colors or flavors at all.