Special Feature: Products Sally Recommends
making it pop: flavored popcorn (part 2)
Important: Popcorn should not be given to children under four or five years of age. Very young children don't have the ability to chew and grind popcorn into pieces small enough to prevent choking. When you do give your child popcorn, it should be only the fluffy part; unpopped or half-popped kernels can get stuck in a child's throat.
Products were tasted in the order in which I received them. The tasting protocol: I tried my best to be neither full nor hungry when I sat down to taste popcorn. I tasted a sufficient amount of popcorn to form an opinion, drank at least four ounces of water, and waited at least five minutes before tasting the next popcorn. No more than four popcorns were tasted in any one session, with a maximum of three tasting sessions per day.
The most common problem I encountered was popcorn, sweet or savory in nature, that was too salty. Time and again, salt overwhelmed other flavors and/or my taste buds. An employee in a natural foods store near me once observed that we live in an oversalted world, and she's correct. I don't mind tasting salt when it complements other flavors, but I do mind it when it's all I can taste, or when it steamrolls other tastes into oblivion.
Popcorn labels can be difficult to figure out. If one flavored popcorn from a business is certified gluten-free or certified kosher or Non GMO Project Verified, and their other flavors don't have such credentials, it might mean only that they're in the middle of changing packaging and that the new packaging will reflect the certifications. Or it might signify that only that flavor has such credentials. Sometimes, different products are made in different facilities, so a gluten-free certification, for instance, might not be possible in one facility that also produces wheat-based foods for another brand. Additionally, certifications and verifications are not cheap, and depending upon the demands of retail partners or target markets or demographic research, companies might not feel that such expense is justified for every flavor they make. I've tried to list all such certifications and verifications correctly here. If any are important to you and you're not sure from looking at the label, double-check with the company before ordering or buying popcorn.
You'll note that some flavors are listed, but I did not try them. This is because I cannot eat one or more of the ingredients, but I wanted you to know that these popcorns are available, should you care to try them yourself. In most cases, I was not able to try all popcorn flavors made by a business, so for a full roster, head over to that company's website. Note, too, that some popcorn companies change flavors seasonally, and others retire old flavors and add new ones.
As noted in the first half of this article, I tasted a number of popcorns that contain ingredients I don't necessarily want to consume with any frequency. But this is a taste-test, and my ratings are about that, and only that. Believe me when I tell you I do not always eat with such abandon! As a rule, I am very careful about my diet, and I hope you are, too. But for the purposes of this article, I was not.
Popcorn companies are listed in alphabetical order. Favorites are listed directly below and noted in the reviews of the individual businesses.
---479 Degrees, www.479degrees.com. Asiago, Parmesan + Cheddar.
---Chef Dakota/Dakota's Pop Parlor, http://chefdakota.com. Napa Nirvana.
---Crazy Cobb Popcorn, www.crazycobb.com. Margarita.
---CrunchDaddy Popcorn, www.crunchdaddy.com. Maple & Bacon Crunch.
---Earth Balance, http://earthbalancenatural.com. P.B. Popps.
---Little Lad's, www.littlelads.com. Herbal Corn.
---Masala Pop, www.eatmasalapop.com. Saag Paneer, Chai Masala.
---Mother Butter's Popcorn and Confectionary, www.motherbutterspopcorn.com. Pesto Parmesan.
---Pop Art Gourmet Popcorn, www.popartsnacks.com. Tandoori Yogurt.
---Popcorn Asylum, http://popcornasylum.com. PB & J, Cheddar.
---Popcorn, Indiana, www.popcornindiana.com. Whole Foods Market Whole Trade Guarantee Caramel.
---Popcorn Passion, www.popcornpassion.com. Chocolate Coconut Crunch.
---Pop! Gourmet Popcorn, www.popgourmetpopcorn.com. Rogue Blue Cheese.
---Pop Karma, www.popkarma.com. Pure Caramel.
---Popsalot, www.Popsalot.com. Southern Surprise.
---Prohibition Popcorn, http://prohibitionpopcorn.com/. Prohibition Popcorn.
---Whatever Pops Up, www.whateverpopsup.com. Coffee & Doughnuts.
---365 Everyday Value, www.wholefoodsmarket.com. 365 Everyday Value is the Whole Foods Market house brand. The Organic Sweet & Salty Kettle Corn, which is Non GMO Project verified, is very appealing, with good degrees of both sweetness and saltiness. The Applewood Smoked White Cheddar Popcorn is also very pleasant, with Cheddar and smoke tastes that don't overwhelm. The Applewood Smoked White Cheddar is certified kosher (dairy) by KOF-K Kosher Supervision.
---479 Degrees, www.479degrees.com. Organic popcorn is used here and the popcorns are certified gluten-free. The White Cheddar + Black Truffle has a very light white Cheddar presence with a nice truffle accent---very good! It seemed odd to me that there was no herb aroma when I opened the bag of Farmers Market Herbs, as the popcorn is flecked with a mix of dried dill, parsley, garlic powder, onion powder, sea salt, and nutritional yeast. But the popcorn is tasty nonetheless. The Asiago, Parmesan + Cheddar is a favorite. There are actually five cheeses in this popcorn, and it's an outstanding combination of tastes; I could eat it all day. I wasn't as thrilled with the Toasted Coconut Caramel, though it was pleasant, with an accent of coconut flavoring (this popcorn contains organic agave nectar). Certified kosher (dairy) by KOF-K Kosher Supervision.
---American Farmer Popcorn, www.afpopcorn.com. The Skinny N' Light Kettle Popped Corn has a slight sweetness that's steamrolled by too much salt. The Kettle Popped Corn tastes a little sweeter (although it has the same amount of sugars, interestingly enough), but it, too, is just too salty. Certified kosher (pareve) by The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations.
---Angie's Popcorn, www.angiespopcorn.com. I tried two varieties of the Boom Chicka Pop (this company's lower calorie popcorn). These popcorns are certified gluten-free and Non GMO Project Verified. The Sea Salt has very simple ingredients---just popcorn, sunflower oil, and salt, and it was tasty. It's certified kosher by The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations. The White Cheddar is very pleasant, with a subtle but definite cheese presence. Certified kosher (dairy) by the same certifying agency.
---Brandini Poppers, www.brandinitoffee.com. The Cashew Almond has a “browned butter” sweetness from the toffee. It's crisp and crunchy, and you can see and taste the cashews and almonds in the mix. Very good! The Chocolate Almond has a similar base (without the cashews) and an attractive drizzle of chocolate, but there's almost no chocolate flavor here.
---Brownie Points, www.browniepointsinc.com. There's dark purple-red popcorn, as might be expected from raspberry flavor, in the Raspberry Caramel Dark Chocolate. This is a nice combination of flavors. The Chocolate Caramel Sea Salt is simply too salty. Salt is the first flavor I get, and it's too predominant up until almost the end. Popcorn, pretzels, graham crackers, caramel, white chocolate, dark chocolate, and salt make up the Trendy Trash. It's an amusing name with good potential, but too sweet and too salty for me. Of the popcorns I tried from this business, the one I enjoyed most was the Peanut Butter Crunch, caramel corn with a dark chocolate and a peanut butter drizzle. Certified kosher by Vaad of Columbus, OH.
---Cape Cod Chips, www.capecodchips.com. The Kettle Corn is quite salty tasting, with little sweetness. The Sea Salt has a decent level of salt but is not special. These two popcorns are certified gluten-free and certified kosher by KOF-K Kosher Supervision. With very little cheese flavor, the White Cheddar is intensely salty. The White Cheddar only is certified kosher (dairy) by The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations.
---CC Made, www.ccmade.com. Organic popcorn purchased directly from the farmer. I am torn about this popcorn. I can recognize that it's made with care and contains good-quality ingredients, but everything I tried was just too salty. The Classic Caramel Popcorn is very good overall---crisp popcorn, a good caramel with no cloying aftertaste, and a not-too-heavy caramel coating. And it tastes very fresh. This would be a favorite except for the salt issue; you get caramel first, and the salt enters into the equation later. The same problem exists with the Pistachio Caramel Popcorn, which contains salt-roasted pistachios; the last thing this caramel corn needs is more salt. I wasn't sure how I'd feel about the Rosemary & Cashew Caramel Popcorn; I don't always like herbals in my sweets. But the rosemary is a fine addition here, and it tones down the sweetness of the caramel a bit, while the cashews provide textural contrast. Again, this would be a favorite, but there's too much salt.
---Chef Dakota/Dakota's Pop Parlor, http://chefdakota.com/. I've done a good deal of research on popcorn at this point, and I've never seen flavors like these anywhere else; even the toffees, which you'd expect to be quite sweet, are more on the savory side. Hazelnut-chocolate toffee, banana chips, and mocha chips make up the Buzzed Nanuts, which is more savory than sweet, though the banana chips and mocha chips add bursts of sweetness. The Truffle Shuffle is very good, with truffle-honey toffee, black pepper that builds in your mouth the more you eat, and Parmesan. The Perk N Pop includes the crunch of macadamias and toasted coconut, which add good flavor and textural contrast, but the espresso toffee doesn't work for me. I enjoyed the complexity of Madras curry toffee, smoked pistachios, and bacon in the Curried Pig; this is also very good. You see and taste the fried sage and a note of roasted chicken in the Sunday Supper---roasted chicken toffee, fried sage, and waffle cone pieces. I enjoy the savory peanut butter toffee in the Peanut Gallery, which also contains tiny, crunchy marshmallows and “pearls” of roasted white chocolate. Of all the flavors I tried, my pick---and a favorite---is the Napa Nirvana, Cabernet toffee popcorn with golden raisins and rosemary crackers. There's a bit of acidity as well as some bold flavor from the wine, and all of the flavors marry beautifully. I did not try the Malt in Your Mouth, Holy Mole, Tart N Peppa, Pumpkin Hatch (with Hatch chile pumpkin seeds), Candy Crushin, or Sweet Heat Wave.
---Cobra Corn, http://dishoomfoods.com/. The Himalayan Mountain Salt variety is very light-textured, and bites range from quite lightly salted to much more heavily salted. More interesting is the Chai Caramel. You get a sweet caramel taste up front, and the chai spices come in about halfway through. All told, it's a nice blend of flavors with a tiny note of heat, but the cinnamon presence is too heavy.
---Crazy Cobb Popcorn, www.crazycobb.com. Of the flavors I tried, the Margarita is my top pick---and a favorite. It's popcorn with salt, lime powder, and lime zest, all in good proportions. Fun and clever. The In A Pickle is less successful; it's far too salty, with some flavor of garlic and dill. The Black Gold is a good concept---chocolate popcorn and caramel popcorn together in one bag---but the chocolate popcorn is slightly soggy. There's also the CINNful Cinnamon, a very light-textured brown-sugar cinnamon popcorn. It would have been a favorite except for the presence of salt; I just don't care for the cinnamon-sugar-salt combination.
---CrunchDaddy Popcorn, www.crunchdaddy.com. Sweet Butter Crunch is CrunchDaddy's kettle corn; it's a little sweet and a little saltier. My pick here, and a favorite, is the Maple & Bacon Crunch. Yeah, there's real bacon in there, as well as real maple syrup, and the blend is one of sweet, salty, smoky, crunchy, and chewy; there's a small hint of maple just at the end. Great! The Smokey Cheddar Crunch, on the other hand, delivers a smokey punch that overrides any other tastes, and this popcorn is also a trifle soggy.
---Divvies, www.divvies.com. This small bakery business creates products designed for those with allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, and/or milk. Their Kettle Corn has a slight sweetness but is seriously oversalted. The Caramel Corn, on the other hand, is very good; it has neither too heavy nor too light a caramel coating, and the coating has a nice brown sugar flavor.
---Earth Balance, http://earthbalancenatural.com. The Vegan Buttery Flavor is decent, but I don't get any kind of buttery taste. Better is the Vegan Aged White Cheddar Flavor, which includes a combination of ingredients that really does provide a somewhat cheesy taste. And then there are the P.B. Popps, popcorn and peanuts coated in a slightly sweet, not-too-salty combination of peanut butter and oats. Crunchy and chewy, with two of my favorite flavors. I'm helpless! A favorite.
---FunkyChunky, www.funkychunkyinc.com. I tried only the Sea Salt Caramel. There were large clusters of the mix of popcorn, milk and dark chocolate, cashews, sea salt, and caramel. This is a fun concept, but the mix is too salty, and both chocolates used are of poor quality.
---Good Health Natural Foods, www.goodhealthnaturalproducts.com. The Organic Popcorn with a Hint of Sea Salt uses organic popcorn and organic oil(s). It was pleasant, but this was one of very few popcorns I found lacking sufficient salt.
---Harlow's Popcorn, www.harlowspopcorn.com. I tried only the Kettle Corn, which is much too salty.
---Herr's Old Fashioned Caramel Corn, www.herrs.com. The caramel coating on this popcorn is not too heavy, but it's very sweet and cloying. Certified kosher (dairy) by The National Council of Young Israel.
---JavaPOP, www.purjava.com. Yes, it's popcorn with coffee! The Caramel Cappuccino does indeed have a coffee presence. There's some sweetness, too (though not too much), but I don't really get a caramel flavor. Good. The Cafe Mocha has an interesting flavor pattern, in that you get a strong coffee kick first, then an increasing sweetness (that does not become excessive), and then the coffee flavor returns. This, too, is good.
---Jody's Popcorn, www.jodyspopcorn.com. The Recipe 53 Caramel Corn is just too sweet, with a heavy caramel coating that tastes like corn syrup and a slight saltiness at the finish. The Peanut Butter has some peanut butter taste, but it, too, is overly-salty at the end.
---Just Pop In, www.justpopinonline.com. Check out the Local Flavor section for partnerships with businesses in their area. Of the three flavors I tasted, the best by far was the Homespun Dark Chocolate Ginger with Sea Salt, with both ginger extract and bits of candied ginger. You get a definite hit of dark chocolate, followed by a ginger presence ranging from mild to intense (it varies with every bite), and finally the salt kicks in. I could have done without the salt, but this flavor was very good overall. Less successful were the 4 Birds Bakery Oats & Maple Cookie Crumbs---a nice concept, but the cookie crumbs had no maple presence and the popcorn was too salty, and the Smoking Goose Caramel Bacon + Cheddar. The latter is another great concept, but the hickory-smoked Cheddar is spicy/sharp enough that it overwhelms the bacon and caramel popcorn in the mix.
---Lesser Evil, www.lesserevil.com. These products are certified organic and Non GMO Project Verified. I love the simplicity of the Himalayan Pink (named for the Himalayan pink salt used in it), but this popcorn is too salty for me. The Himalayan Sweetness has some enjoyable bursts of sweetness (though it isn't too sugary), but it is still too salty. Lesser Evil also makes several types of Chia Pop, flavored popcorns made with chia seed flour. In the Aged White Cheddar Chia Pop, the Cheddar taste varies from faint to modest, but the chia seed flour lends an earthiness I don't care for. The Sea Salt and Cracked Pepper Chia Pop uses pepper judiciously, but again, the chia seed flour has a flavor I don't like. Certified kosher by The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations.
---Little Lad's, www.littlelads.com. Non-GMO soybean oil and some organic ingredients. I've been eating the Herbal Corn for years, and I still love it; it's a favorite. A little salty (but not too much) and with a definite presence of multiple herbs. The Lemon Herbal has some lemon flavor and some herbal presence, but this combination doesn't work for me. The same is true of the Herbal BBQ, with a mix of herbal and barbecue tastes. The Snacker Jacks, popcorn with a very light coating of a molasses caramel with tahini, is more to my taste, but unfortunately this popcorn is too salty.
---Masala Pop, www.eatmasalapop.com. Organic popcorn and some other organic ingredients. The Saffron Rose is gently sweet, with a quiet floral note just at the finish. The Coconut Curry is very good, a nice mix of caramel and curry flavors with coconut flakes and just a bit of heat. A favorite is the Saag Paneer, which has some salt, some mild spices, a buttery element from the ghee, and more flavor from the dried leafy greens and garam masala. You've got to try this! Another favorite is the Chai Masala (with Assam Tea). The funny part? I cannot abide the taste of tea; I've never liked it. But somehow the tea combines with the spices (love that cardamom!) and the coconut palm sugar and everything works together here. Delicious!
---Mike's Popcorn, http://mikespopcorn.com/. The White Supreme is made from tiny popcorn. It's tender, and the salt level is fine. Good. The Carameliscious is covered with caramel, but the coating isn't heavy or greasy or cloying. It's very good. The Drizzleliscious is caramel corn drizzled with a dark chocolate. There's a slight saltiness here, and the chocolate seems almost waxy in texture.
---Mother Butter's Popcorn and Confectionary, www.motherbutterspopcorn.com. Locally-sourced popcorn and other ingredients. The Maple Walnut features caramel blended with real maple, as well as caramelized walnuts. I couldn't detect any maple presence, but the caramelized walnuts are a nice addition, though there is a salt finish to this popcorn. If you like the flavor of eggnog, try the Egg Nog Caramel, a caramel popcorn with sweet spices reminiscent of the holiday season. The DILL-icious includes lots of flecks of dried dill incorporated into a White Cheddar popcorn, and it's good. My pick here, and a favorite, is the Pesto Parmesan. This has a somewhat heavier coating of flavors on it than many other popcorns I tried, but that's not a negative here, just an observation. A Parmesan flavor with accents of dried basil; this proves that you don't require pasta to enjoy the flavor of pesto! I also tried the East Meets West. This popcorn has some curry in it; there are other seasonings, as well, but I couldn't determine what they are. Unhappily, it's too salty.
---Orville Redenbacher's, www.orville.com. This company is now producing bagged, flavored popcorn. The Classic Kettle Corn has a nice touch of sweetness, but that is overwhelmed by salt. The Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop Crunch provides a strong, jarring hit of both cinnamon and salt. Certified kosher (dairy) by The Organized Kashrus Laboratories.
---Pipcorn, www.pipsnacks.com. My pick of the three flavors I tried is the Sea Salt. You can taste the salt, but it's used judiciously. The White Truffle has a slight truffle note that goes nicely with the salt presence. The Kettle Corn has very minimal sweetness and saltiness; there just isn't enough flavor.
---Pop Art Gourmet Popcorn, www.popartsnacks.com. Organic popcorn, GMO-free ingredients. Of the three flavors I tasted, I most enjoyed the Tandoori Yogurt. There's a lot of flavor going on in this popcorn, which is a little spicy and a little tangy and somehow genuinely reminiscent of a tandoori dish. Creative and delicious. The lower-calorie Rosemary Truffle, which according to Pop Art has just 47 calories per cup, was good, but it's too lightly flavored. I get periodic hints of truffle and herb, but when I tasted anything, it was usually salt. The Thai Coconut Curry variety is a very mild curry, and all told the popcorn didn't have that much flavor.
---Popcorn Alley dba Stonehedge Farms, www.facebook.com/pages/Stonehedge-Farms-Popcorn-Alley-Snacks/112695648774757. The Butter Toffee Popcorn is quite sweet and doesn't taste fresh. This popcorn is also not as crunchy as most others. The Caramel Corn is decent, with a hint of molasses flavor. Certified kosher by The National Council of Young Israel.
---Popcorn Asylum, http://popcornasylum.com. The PB & J is appealing to the younger set, but adults like it just as much. The “J” turns out to be small pieces of dehydrated strawberries, and you can smell both the strawberries and peanut butter when you open the bag. This popcorn isn't too sweet or too salty, you can taste all of the component ingredients, they blend harmoniously, and the strawberries add a delightful chewy note. Fantastic---and a favorite. Also a favorite is the modestly-named Cheddar, which uses a good-quality white Cheddar powder. This popcorn has a sharp Cheddar taste and much more definitive cheese presence than many others with similar names. Not as successful is the S'Mores. There's some chocolate flavor and there are notes of marshmallow, but there isn't enough of either taste and there's too much cinnamon in the mix.
---Popcorn, Indiana, www.popcornindiana.com. Dale and Thomas Popcorn sells popcorn under their own name, as well as under the Popcorn, Indiana name. Their Kettlecorn is a little sweet and a little salty and not particularly exciting. The Sea Salt variety has a good level of salt. The fit Real Butter does contain clarified butter but is not noteworthy. All of these popcorns are certified gluten-free and certified kosher by The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations. However, Popcorn, Indiana has a line of flavored popcorns that they are producing in conjunction with Whole Foods Market. This line of flavored popcorns carries the Whole Foods Market Whole Trade Guarantee, uses Fair Trade ® ingredients, and is Non GMO Project Verified (in addition to being certified gluten-free and certified kosher by the above-named body). This line of flavored popcorns also uses some organic ingredients. Of this Whole Foods line, I tried only the Caramel, which has a heavy coating of caramel with a very strong molasses flavor (organic molasses is one ingredient, in fact). Among my many peculiarities is the fact that I'm a complete fool for molasses, so as you might guess, the Caramel is a favorite.
---Popcorn Passion, www.popcornpassion.com. Fair Trade ® certified chocolate is used here. The Salted Chocolate Caramel is comprised of large clusters of popcorn surrounded by a crunchy caramel and drizzled with dark chocolate. It's good, but too salty. Including miniature chocolate chips, the Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough has a flavor in the coating I just don't like, though I can't quite identify what that is. On the other hand, the Chocolate Coconut Crunch is great fun, and it tastes very much like a dark chocolate coconut cluster with the additional delightful crunch of popcorn. It's a favorite. The Honey Mustard allows you to taste both flavor components. I'd like a bit more of a mustard kick, but this is good overall. Most unusual, the Fennel Caramel combines the sweetness of anise flavor with caramel. As you'd guess, this makes the popcorn quite sweet, but it isn't excessively so. I do not often like an anise presence in my food, but this combination works very well, perhaps because the anise is added with a light hand. The Margarita on the Rocks has bursts of lime flavor with a touch of sweetness, but there's too much salt here. And the Sweet Thai Curry has a faint note of spicing, but the coating on the popcorn is too heavy and too sweet.
---Pop'd Kerns, www.popdkerns.com. Certified gluten-free, GMO-free soybean oil. The website describes Pop'd Kerns as “not a corn nut and not popcorn”. To me, it is popcorn, but the kernels are not fully popped. I thought these products would be too hard or crunchy to be enjoyable, but I was wrong; they're crunchier than popcorn, but not at all too difficult to chew. The Barbecue is a little too hot for me; the spiciness builds as you keep eating. The Cheddar gives too much of a hit of cheese powder. I most enjoyed the Original, which has an ideal level of salt.
---Pop! Gourmet Popcorn, www.popgourmetpopcorn.com. This company has entered into partnerships with well-regarded chefs, fitness gurus, and small-scale food producers in the Northwest to come up with some interesting (and well-executed) flavors. The Almond Roca ® Buttercrunch catches you by surprise. It looks like any other caramel corn, but the taste is that of Almond Roca ®, the best-selling buttercrunch in the US. Good. Tony Little's White Truffle Diet Pop! does indeed have some truffle flavor, but it's also saltier than I'd like. A complex flavor with some heat and a slight cheese note characterizes the very good Tom Douglas Rub With Love (Smoky BBQ and Northwest Cheddar). Both the Infused Garlic Sea Salt and the Fire Corn are certified gluten-free. I did not try the Fire Corn (which is also certified kosher (dairy) by KOF-K Kosher Supervision). You can smell the garlic when you open the Infused Garlic Sea Salt; the sunflower oil creates an almost buttery note in this popcorn, which is very good. This is also certified kosher by KOF-K Kosher Supervision. Finally, my pick among the flavors I tried: the Rogue Blue Cheese. Certified gluten-free, this popcorn blends blue cheese from Oregon's Rogue Creamery with popcorn. An amazing blue cheese flavor on crunchy yet tender popcorn? I'm ashamed to tell you how quickly this disappeared---and I was the only one eating it. A favorite.
---Pop Karma, www.popkarma.com. Organic popcorn and some other organic ingredients, GMO-free ingredients. The Classic Mediterranean is reasonably salted and tasty. The Kyoto Mix, a blend of miso and seaweed flavors, isn't my cup of tea. It's interesting and delivers a powerful jolt of umami, but I just didn't enjoy it. Better was the White Truffle Cheddar, with a definite truffle presence and a very light white Cheddar taste. There's a good level of white Cheddar flavor in the Zen Cheddar. It's not too heavy, nor is it so light that you can't taste it. My pick of the flavors I tried here, and a favorite, is the Pure Caramel. This has a lovely light caramel coating; you get the browned-butter-and-sugar flavor and some sweetness, but you don't end up with a sugar rush.
---Popsalot, www.Popsalot.com. Certified gluten-free and Non GMO Project Verified. The Clandestine Caramel is available on its own; it's also the foundation for the other caramel popcorns here. These caramel popcorns have a lighter caramel coating than some others. The Clandestine Caramel is very good. If you enjoy macadamia nuts, try the Honolulu Aloha; the macadamias also have a light coating of caramel. The Brazilian Samba is caramel corn with cashews. This is a very pleasant combination, though I'd have preferred a few more cashews in the mix. My pick of the caramel corns here, and a favorite, is the Southern Surprise. Clandestine Caramel Popcorn is mixed with lightly caramel-coated pecans. “Surprise” is an accurate reflection of my reaction, as I don't always care for pecans in my snacks, but the combination here is irresistible. A modest but definite Parmesan presence characterizes the very good Roman Holiday. The London Kettle Corn has a nice touch of sweetness, but I find the salt to be too much. And the Saigon Sunrise, the kettle corn with cinnamon, has a fine spice taste, but again, it's too salty for me. With the exception of Roman Holiday, these popcorns are certified kosher by Earth Kosher.
---Prohibition Popcorn, http://prohibitionpopcorn.com/. Non GMO Project Verified corn. The name of this popcorn comes from the fact that there's a little whiskey in each batch. You can taste it, too, as an accent that comes in just at the end. This is lightly-carameled, fresh-tasting popcorn with a buttery note and a unique flavor from the whiskey. It's slightly salty, as well, but the salt is used sparingly enough that everything blends very well. A favorite.
---Rachel Michael's Gourmet Popcorn, www.rachelmichaelspopcorn.com. The Salt & Vinegar has strong (but not unpleasantly strong) tastes of both components, and it's quite good. A mix of pretzels, cheese popcorn, and beer caramel comprises the Beer Caramel Corn. The caramel corn here has an unexpected taste just at the finish, almost certainly from the beer. I can smell and taste the chocolate in the Pinot Noir Caramel Corn, but I detect no note of the wine itself. I find this popcorn chewier than most because of the type of caramel used (that's not a negative; I like this aspect). The Sauvignon Blanc Caramel Corn, also chewier than most others, has a slight acidity at the finish---an interesting counterpoint to the sweet caramel. Reflecting this company's Ohio heritage, I also tasted the Buckeye Caramel Corn, which features a peanut butter drizzle and a good “hit” of chocolate to go with the caramel. Unfortunately, there's a pop of salt at the finish of the Buckeye Caramel Corn that renders it too salty for me.
---Rural Route 1 Popcorn, www.ruralroute1.com. The S.S. Dunkle is caramel corn “dunked in fudge” and sprinkled with sea salt. You can certainly taste all of the components here, and it's a fine concept, but it's too salty. The Cheese is good, with some cheese flavor that isn't laid on too heavily. A heavier caramel coating than some others distinguishes the Classic Caramel, which is too sweet for me. Cranberries, sweet popcorn, and white fudge make up the RC Snakle. I'm a big fan of the chewiness and tart note the cranberries add, but overall this combination is too sweet for me. The same is true of the K'Nuckle (popcorn, almonds, and white fudge). The almonds provide a nice textural contrast, but the blend is too sweet.
---Skinny Pop, http://skinnypop.com. GMO-free ingredients; Non GMO Project verified. The Naturally Sweet is not sweet and a little salty, rather boring overall. The Ultra Lite White Cheddar has a very delicate, though good, Cheddar taste. Note that this is cheese flavoring, not real cheese. Certified kosher by the Chicago Rabbinical Council.
---Smartfood, www.smartfood.com. According to the website, this is “America's Favorite White Cheddar Popcorn”. The package I have claims that this is America's #1 selling popcorn brand based on 2013 retail sales. That's hardly surprising, given that the brand is owned by Frito-Lay (owned in turn by food giant PepsiCo), who commands the majority of shelf space in the snack chip aisle in a large percentage of the food retailers in this country. The White Cheddar has a good cheese flavor. Smartfood Delight is a lower calorie and fat line; the Sea Salt is very uneven, with a light salt taste on some flakes and a much heavier concentration on others, while the White Cheddar Smartfood Delight is quite good, with a moderate cheese presence that fades rather quickly.
---Tiny But Mighty Foods, www.tinybutmightyfoods.com. An interesting backstory about the revival of an ancient, almost forgotten variety of popcorn. I tried only the Sea Salt, which has a reasonable salt level and is very good.
---Whatever Pops Up, www.whateverpopsup.com. The Honey Mustard really tastes like mustard with a touch of sweetness. A good combination and it works well in this example. I did not try the Buffalo & Blue Cheese. My pick of the flavors I tried? The Coffee & Doughnuts. The taste starts out with a coffee-caramel blend, but trails to cinnamon in a long finish. There's a hint of molasses flavor, too. Outstanding and a favorite.
---Wise Popcorn, www.wisesnacks.com. I tried only the White Cheddar. It's crunchier than many other cheese popcorns sampled, with some cheese taste.