I often get asked the question, “What is gourmet popcorn?”
But, before I give you my definition, I’d like to let you know that there are many varieties of popcorn kernels and lots and lots of ready to eat (RTE) popcorn flavors. The market has become saturated with so many choices for popcorn lovers. Some companies just harvest the popcorn and sell kernels, while the companies who create RTE popcorn get their kernels from a vendor and add a multitude of flavoring, some good, some bad.
Before gourmet popcorn, there was gourmet popping corn (the kernels), which was coined by Orville Redenbacher when he created an exclusive hybrid popcorn kernel that pops up lighter, fluffier, and bigger. Unfortunately, bigger is not always better. There are a lot of other companies who harvest a better kernel. Some of these varieties pop up small, but they have a much better natural popcorn flavor. They are also easier to digest and have a higher nutritional value.
So, what is gourmet popcorn?
Gourmet popcorn is created when someone uses a great popcorn kernel for popping and then adds the finest ingredients to make a flavorful combination. The key is getting both correct. You can use a crappy kernel and great ingredients, and you can use a great kernel variety and mediocre ingredients, but this won’t create great gourmet popcorn. You need to have both — a great, consistent popcorn kernel and a “wow-factor” combination of the best ingredients you can find. It is only when you have both that you can claim that you have “gourmet popcorn.”
It was back in the beginning of 2010 when I wrote by first popcorn review and since then I’ve reviewed over 100 different companies and tasted well over 500 different kinds of popcorn flavors. Many of these, in my opinion, are gourmet popcorn flavors. I’m not going to mention any companies by name, but you know who you are and you make some incredible gourmet popcorn flavors.
Thanks and Keep on Poppin’
A few weeks ago I got a box from Cromer’s that contained three bags of popcorn — Caramel Corn, Cheesy Sweet Monkey Munch, and Sweet n Sassy Caramel Corn.
I absolutely love caramel popcorn. I’ve tasted well over 100 different kinds from quite a lot of popcorn companies. The recipe for caramel popcorn is relatively the same, but the ingredients used are varied. Finding the right combination is the key.
I started out my tasting with the Caramel Corn. It was really, really good and it only lasted a few minutes. It wasn’t a very large bag, but it did contain enough popcorn for two to enjoy, however, there was nobody around to share with so I consumed it all myself. Next up was the Cheesy Sweet Monkey Munch. It basically tasted very similar to the Caramel Corn flavor with just a minimal flavor of cheese. It really needed more cheese flavoring. The final flavor, Sweet n Sassy Caramel Corn, turned out to be my favorite. It contained a mixture of spicy ingredients (onion, garlic, etc.) that tickled my tongue. It starts out as a sweet caramel flavor and then the spicy flavors kick in as you are chewing and stay on your tongue for a few minutes. I was craving for more when the flavor was gone.
All the popcorn from Cromer’s was fresh and crunchy. I highly recommend the Caramel Corn and the Sweet n Sassy Caramel Corn flavors.
Keep on Poppin’
This week I’ve been adding a little Palo Popcorn to my salads. It’s a great way to add a little crunch and flavor. Palo sent me a big box that contained all of their popcorn flavors — Cheddar, White Cheddar, Jalapeno Cheddar, Bacon Cheddar, and Bacon Jalapeno Cheddar. Palo Popcorn makes great cheese popcorn and being in the State of Wisconsin helps.
I began my tasting with the White Cheddar popcorn. It was awesome! I was soon eating it by the handful after just a few bites. Next up was the regular Cheddar flavor and it too was awesome. I actually added some to my salad (pictured) later that night. The Jalapeno Cheddar had a very nice spicy flavor that stayed on the middle of my tongue for a few minutes. Unfortunately, the Bacon Cheddar and the Bacon Jalapeno Cheddar did’t contain real bacon. The bacon flavoring was there, it just wasn’t real bacon.
Palo Popcorn is a must try if you like cheese popcorn. It’s certainly some of the best cheese popcorn I’ve had in quite some time. The Jalapeno Cheddar flavor was my favorite, and don’t forget — it also makes a great salad topping.
The Humphrey Popcorn Company sent me a box that contained two popcorn balls (one caramel and one original) and a large bag of their lightly salted popcorn.
I started my tasting by opening up the Original Popcorn Ball. I knew it was going to be difficult to eat whole so I smashed it while it was still sealed in the bag. It immediately broke into easy to eat pieces. I grabbed a big hunk and began munching. It was sweet and crunchy and had a pretty good popcorn flavor. Next up was the caramel popcorn ball. I hit it a few times with the back of a big spoon and broke it up so it was easier to eat. It looked good, but it just didn’t have a great caramel flavor. I was hoping for the lightly salted popcorn to taste better, and it did. I opened up the bag and after munching for a few minutes I had a hard time putting it down. It was fairly salty and had a great popcorn flavor. I probably ate about half of the popcorn before putting it in another container for later. I really liked the lightly salted popcorn, but I didn’t care too much for the popcorn balls.
Keep on Poppin’
Pilot Knob Comforts is a farm that grows two kinds of popcorn — Ruby Red and Shaman Blue (pictured below). They sent me a bag of each and I popped up a big bowl of the Shaman Blue a few days after it arrived.
Even though the kernels are dark, the popcorn pops up bright white. It only took me a few minutes to consume an entire bowl. This popcorn is delicious. All I seasoned it with was a little salt and pepper. It has a great natural popcorn flavor. And, there was no need for flossing afterwards. I popped up a bowl of the Ruby Red a few days later and it was just as good — it just has a nuttier flavor.
Pilot Knob claims that their popcorn is hull-less, but there is no such thing as hull-less popcorn. All popcorn has a hull, which is what holds the popcorn together. Some popcorn varieties have less hull than others and some are smaller in shape and for these kinds the hull breaks up into smaller pieces and is much easier to digest. Pilot Knob’s popcorn comes in a very nice stand-up resealable package and the stove-top instructions on the back are exactly the way I pop popcorn.
I really enjoyed the popcorn from Pilot Knob Comforts. The Shaman Blue was my favorite, but I really liked both kinds.
Keep on Poppin’
Shawnee’s Greenthumb Popcorn is probably the most nutritious popcorn on the planet. The unique combination of spirulina (a high protein super food), nutritional yeast, and cayenne pepper give this popcorn an earthy and spicy flavor. The flavor of spirulina is very deep and earthy, and it’s the first flavor to hit your tongue. As you begin to chew the cayenne flavor kicks in and provides the finishing flavor. I like how the flavors hit your tongue at different times. I really loved the taste. And, the nutritional aspect of Shawnee’s Greenthumb Popcorn gives you the freedom to eat popcorn as a meal. It’s also one of the most unique popcorn flavor combinations I’ve had in quite some time, and it’s good for you too.
The Art of Caramel has some very interesting gourmet popcorn flavors. They sent me a nice box of three different flavors — Orange Cognac Kiss, Vanilla Bean Cocoa Nib, and Kentucky Bourbon Black Pepper.
As I watched the Oscars, I began my tasting with the Orange Cognac Kiss and a snifter of Grand Marnier. Unfortunately, the popcorn was only slightly orange flavored and only about half of the popcorn was drizzled with chocolate. I really wanted more chocolate and a much stronger orange flavor. The Vanilla Bean Cocoa Nib was up next and I experienced the same problem — it really needed more vanilla flavoring and there were very few cocoa nibs, which tasted good, but there needed to be a whole lot more. I was really looking forward to the last flavor, but it too was missing a strong flavor of bourbon, however the black pepper flavor was very evident. All of the popcorn from The Art of Caramel was fresh and crunchy, but they needed a stronger flavor.