Smiling woman reaches out for popcorn

Air Popped Popcorn vs. Microwave Popcorn: Which Is Better For You?

Whether you prefer microwave popcorn or want a healthier option, like air-popped popcorn, we've got you covered. Explore the ins and outs of both types, compare their benefits, and check out step-by-step instructions on how to make them.

Popcorn is a staple ingredient in our snack cupboard — and, according to research into the popcorn industry, it seems most people agree as over 60% of popcorn is consumed at home.

This honestly isn't a surprise to us. Popcorn is a delicious and easy snack you can enjoy, whether it’s microwaved, store-bought, air-popped, or cooked on a stovetop.

Microwave popcorn is the most common type of popcorn people eat at home, thanks to it being relatively inexpensive, coming pre-seasoned in an array of flavors, and ready in a matter of minutes. The downside is that it can be full of unhealthy additives.

For a healthier alternative, you may want to consider air-popped popcorn. This popcorn is still easy to make and tastes delicious. But it comes with the added bonus of you getting to control the flavors.

So which is better for you — air-popped popcorn or microwave popcorn? Stay tuned as we explore the ins and outs of each of these popcorn types.

What Is Air-Popped Popcorn?

Woman points at bowl of popcorn

Air-popped popcorn is the healthiest way to enjoy popcorn.

You can make it at home with fewer additives and without adding sugar or processed ingredients.

The preparation process for air-popped popcorn is slightly different from your usual microwave popcorn. It’s made using an air popcorn popper — though, with the right equipment, you might be able to make it in the microwave too.

Air popcorn poppers use hot air to pop kernels instead of oil. These aren't a new invention. You can find them in movie theaters, carnivals, and entertainment events. And because air poppers use high heat to pop kernels, the popcorn is less likely to burn or overcook.

Is Air-Popped Popcorn Healthier Than Microwave Popcorn?

One of the main benefits of air-popped popcorn is that it’s a healthy snack — especially compared to movie theater popcorn and microwave popcorn.

Most microwave popcorn uses oil to pop kernels. Oil adds a couple of extra calories to the popcorn. Since you only need hot oil to make air-popped popcorn, you'll end up with a snack that's high in fiber and low in calories.

You don't need to stick to plain air-popped popcorn. You can get creative with seasonings like sea salt, herbs, and a light drizzle of olive oil for a delicious yet healthy treat for your next movie night!

How to Make Air-Popped Popcorn

Air-popped popcorn is a versatile treat that can be made in different ways. You can use a dedicated air popper or even use some kitchen appliances you already own to achieve the same results.

Whatever air-popping method you use, you can create healthy homemade popcorn with ease. Besides using a dedicated air popper, we also love making air-popped popcorn on the stovetop, in the microwave, and more recently, in the air fryer!

Just take note that following the right measurements and cook times is crucial when making air-popped popcorn. Lucky for you, we’ll be sharing the exact measurements and cooking times you need for using an air popper and other methods:

Using an Air Popper

Check the instructions before making popcorn in an air popper. Most air poppers come with dedicated instructions on how to use that specific popcorn machine. With that said, most air-popped popcorn machines have a similar mechanism so there won’t be too much variation between them.

One thing to be aware of is that kernels can grow as much as 45 times their size when they pop. Add too many to the machine and you may end up with an overflowing air popper and popcorn all over your kitchen!

You can avoid this by limiting the number of unpopped kernels you put in the air popper. A general rule of thumb is to use ⅓ cup of popcorn kernels to produce 9 cups of popcorn.

Once you’ve added your kernels, power up the machine and place a large bowl underneath the release spout. The popcorn pops on its own as it reaches the ideal temperature. When it’s finished popping, all you have to do is season it and enjoy!

Without an Air Popper

Don’t have an air popper? That doesn’t mean you have to stick with microwave or bagged popcorn! You can actually make delicious air-popped popcorn at home with kitchen appliances you already own.

How to Make Air-Popped Popcorn with a Microwave

To make air-popped popcorn in the microwave, simply put your popcorn kernels in a paper bag. Make sure you fold over the top to trap the steam in — this will help the kernels pop.

Put the paper bag in the microwave for approximately 2 minutes and 30 seconds. The actual time will depend on how many kernels you’re popping and your microwave’s wattage. We recommend listening to the pops. If popping slows down to 2–3 seconds between pops, it’s time to take the popcorn out.

You can also use a silicone microwave popcorn maker to make the process easier. Microwave air-popped popcorn has a delicious crunchy texture.

How to Make Air-Popped Popcorn with an Air Fryer

Preheat the air fryer to 400°F and line the bottom of the basket with aluminum foil to help keep the kernels contained while popping. Next, place ½ cup of popcorn kernels in a single layer and cook for 8–10 minutes.

Listen to the sound of the popcorn popping and turn the air fryer off when the kernels stop popping to avoid over-popping. What you’ll end up with is light and crispy popcorn.

How to Make Air-Popped Popcorn on the Stove

Spoiler alert: This needs oil. If you’re okay with that, here’s how to pop air-popped popcorn via the stovetop method:

Using a nonstick pot, heat 2 tablespoons of oil with 2 popcorn kernels. Choose either coconut oil or olive oil for a healthier option. Cover the pot until you hear the kernels pop then add the rest of the unpopped kernels to the pot. It should take about 2–3 minutes in total for the rest of the kernels to pop. 

How to Season Air-Popped Popcorn

Man takes a handful of popcorn from a bowl

Air-popped popcorn is low-fat and gluten-free. Plus, it lasts a long time if you store it in an airtight container. Unseasoned air-popped popcorn makes a great non-GMO option, too.

If you’re partial to a bit of seasoning, then air-popped popcorn offers endless flavor options. One way to season it is by adding a light sprinkle of sea salt and olive oil. This seasoning combo will keep your popcorn fairly healthy while still being delicious.

Another classic seasoning combo is to mix in some melted butter and salt. This is a slightly less healthy option, though, because of the butter.

Want more unique seasoning options? Try adding a few tablespoons of parmesan cheese or nutritional yeast for a cheesy flavor. You can also experiment with cinnamon and honey or vanilla extract to satisfy your sweet tooth. The world is your oyster when it comes to seasoning air-popped popcorn, so have fun!

How Long Can I Store Air-Popped Popcorn?

The great thing about air-popped popcorn is that it's long-lasting. If you make too much by accident, you can just save it for another day. Air-popped popcorn can stay fresh for up to a week when stored in an airtight container at room temperature.

Also, it lasts longer if it’s unseasoned — so remember to season just the serving you're planning to eat.

PRO TIP: If your popcorn goes stale during storage, crisp it up in the oven for a few minutes to revive it.

Get the Most Out of Your Popcorn

Air-popped popcorn is a healthy alternative to microwave popcorn. You get greater control over exactly what ingredients go into making your popcorn, meaning you can make it as nutritious (or unhealthy) as you desire.

There are plenty of ways to pop air-popped popcorn at home, whether you have a popcorn machine or not. The ability to use an air popper or other kitchen appliances makes air-popped popcorn an accessible snack you can enjoy whenever you’re feeling hungry.

But if you want to elevate your popcorn experience, try the Popsmith Popper and make stovetop popcorn instead. Inspired by the classic spinning technique movie theaters use, it has a patented spinner that keeps kernels in motion — leaving you with perfectly popped popcorn every time.

Grab a Popper now and experience just how easy it is to create gourmet popcorn at home!

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