A box of Classic Kettle Popcorn with a packet exposed

Kettle Corn vs. Caramel Corn: The Ultimate Showdown

While kettle corn and caramel corn are both sweet popcorn varieties, what sets them apart from each other? Keep reading to find out!

You already know the difference between kettle corn and regular popcorn, but what about kettle corn popcorn and caramel corn? You can’t lump them under the same category, that’s for sure!

Get ready for a sweet popcorn face-off as we discuss the characteristics that make kettle corn and caramel popcorn unique.


Although caramel popcorn and kettle corn use similar ingredients (oil, sugar, and kernels), how they’re prepared gives you two distinct flavors and textures.

Kettle Corn

Kettle corn was traditionally made in a huge cast iron kettle. Folks back then used lard to grease the kettle and molasses to sweeten the corn. 

Today, we’ve swapped these for oil and sugar, but you’ll still see vendors using wooden paddles to stir huge batches of kettle corn at county fairs and farmers’ markets.

That’s not to say you can’t pop your own kettle corn at home! 

Cooking stovetop kettle corn may be a wee more challenging than regular movie theater popcorn, but it’s worth the extra effort. The key is to add the sugar just before the kernels start popping—pour it in too early, and it will burn the popcorn instead of caramelizing it. You’ll also have to keep the kernels in constant motion.

Luckily, our stovetop popcorn popper makes the job easier (plus our pre-measured Classic Kettle Popcorn will make sure you nail the right sugar-to-salt ratio every time.) 

Read More: How to Make Stovetop Kettle Corn

Caramel Corn 

Caramel corn was invented by brothers Frederick and Louis Rueckheim in the 1870s. They opened a popcorn store after immigrating from Germany to the United States and experimented with all kinds of interesting flavors. 

Caramel popcorn was a result of one of these experiments — though the one we all know and love today is coated in a sauce combining brown sugar, butter, and corn syrup instead of molasses.

Unlike kettle corn where you sprinkle in the sugar as the oil begins to sizzle, with caramel corn, you have to pop the corn first, make a caramel sauce, and then pour the sauce over the kernels. When it cools, the sauce hardens and forms a sweet shell around the popcorn.

Read More: This Caramel Popcorn Recipe Is Worth the Indulgence 


A hand reaches for a handful of kettle corn in a bowl. In the background are two boxes of Classic Kettle popcorn and a Cobalt Popsmith popcorn popper.

Kettle corn popcorn is the perfect balance of sweet and salty. It’s more subtle than caramel corn sweetness-wise and allows the natural saltiness of popcorn to shine through. With caramel popcorn, your taste buds will detect a bolder, richer sweetness. You might also notice some buttery hints from the caramel sauce.


A box of Popsmith's Classic Ketlte Popcorn surrounded by kettle corn

Being coated in a thick layer of sugar and corn syrup, caramel popcorn is a lot stickier than kettle corn. It’s chewier, too. Kettle corn, with its thinner crust of sugar, has a light, crispy texture.

Sweet Dreams Are Made of Sugar and Popcorn

Got all that? To recap, caramel corn and kettle corn use similar ingredients but their preparation method, taste, and texture make them completely different.  

One thing’s for sure, though—no matter which one you end up making for your next date or girls’ night in, you’re in for a delightful treat. 

Don’t forget to check out our blog for more popcorn trivia, recipes, and inspiration.  

FAQs About Kettle Corn and Caramel Corn 

Is caramel corn the same as kettle corn?

They may both be sweet popcorn, but they’re not the same. Caramel popcorn is coated in caramelized sugar and is a little chewier. Kettle corn, on the other hand, has a lighter, crunchier texture since the sugar is sprinkled in while popping. It needs constant stirring to prevent burning.

What makes kettle corn taste different?

Caramel corn has a bolder flavor than kettle corn, one that really highlights the sugar. Kettle corn popcorn is more balanced. It’s sweet but also salty—crisp, too, since the sugar you add as the kernels pop forms a thin caramelized layer around the popcorn. 

Kettle corn owes its distinctive taste to its preparation method. You have to add sugar and salt while the popcorn is popping and stir it every few seconds. 

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