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Where’s The Oscar For The Best Popcorn Ever?

Gourmet flavored popcorn. Credit: Caroline J. Beck

Gourmet flavored popcorn. Credit: Caroline J. Beck

It’s Oscars time, and in addition to dressing for the occasion, we always like to set the table with award-worthy snacks. Some years required black-tie starters like Champagne and oysters. Other years, California-made cheeses like Cypress Grove’s Humboldt Fog and the wonderfully stinky Red Hawk from Cowgirl Creamery competed for Best Cheese in a Supporting Role. But this year, we plan to honor the movies with their best-loved partner, popcorn.

Of course, because it’s the Oscars, it couldn’t be just any microwaved popcorn. Last week when I found some dried popcorn being cut off the cob at the farmers’ market, I knew it was time to use my newly inspired love for spices to elevate popcorn to a starring role.

First, you must be willing to set aside the iconic melted butter and find the very best extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) to dress the hot kernels. EVOO’s intense flavor will lend an earthy, grassy, herbal flavor that just belongs with farm-grown popcorn.

Next, your choice of salt is critical to the perfect box of popcorn. It’s got to be soft enough to cling to the kernels, but crunchy enough to hold its own on the palate. I found that the moisture of grey sea salt fit the bill perfectly.

Finally, adding variety with ground spices, grated cheeses and even cocoa powder creates an interesting mix of options for movie-loving guests. Any blend of favorite flavors will do, but my winning combination was hot salted popcorn tossed with grated pecorino romano cheese, sprinkled with Aleppo pepper flakes and doused with another healthy drizzle of olive oil.

Old-Fashioned, New-Flavored Popcorn

Serves 4


½ cup popcorn kernels

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Extra virgin olive oil, to taste

Sea salt, to taste

Flavoring suggestions:

Grated hard or semi-hard cheese

Aleppo or Marash chili pepper

Cocoa powder mixed with sugar


Smoked paprika


Freshly ground peppercorns


1. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a 3-quart, deep saucepan. As soon as the oil melts and spreads evenly, add enough kernels to fill one layer on the bottom. Cover and increase heat to high flame. As soon as the corn starts popping, shake rigorously over heat until popping is complete.

2. Immediately dress with olive oil and salt and toss to coat.

3. If you are adding grated cheese, do so immediately after removing from heat to ensure that cheese clings to popcorn.

4. Sprinkle with other seasonings to taste.

Top photo: Spiced popcorn. Credit: Caroline J. Beck

Zester Daily contributor Caroline J. Beck is a freelance food and wine writer and a strategic adviser to specialty food startups. Her articles and columns have appeared in such publications as the Santa Ynez Valley Journal, Michigan BLUE -- Michigan's Lakestyle Magazine, and The Olive Oil Source, the world's top-ranked olive oil-related website, where she has served as editor since 2007. Beck's website,, provides common sense advice for enthusiastic entrepreneurs looking to succeed in the specialty foods business.

  • Susan 2·27·14

    why do you like Olive Oil Source EVOO so much? How is it different than other EVOO’s?

  • Caroline J. Beck 2·27·14

    Hi Susan – Funny you noticed the bottle but I guess it’s appeared a few times in my photos. I’ve known the folks at The Olive Oil Source for years and can rely on the highest quality of the products in the bottle. When there is a lot of noise these days about adulterated and mislabeled olive oil, being able to buy from a reputable producer is a real treat. Like other artisan producers around the world, olive oil is always best when you can buy from someone you trust. And since you are interested, I’d also suggest you take a look at Nancy Harmon Jenkins’ latest op-ed about sourcing quality olive oil. It also published this week in Zester Daily.

  • Sonya 3·4·14

    I love homemade popcorn too! I like your idea to use olive oil. Personally I use the flavor recipes from The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, and the Cook’s Country magazine (October/November 2013 issue). They are fantastic, too.

  • Caroline J. Beck 3·4·14

    Sonya – Thanks for the comment and suggestion. As a former olive oil producer, I’m a big advocate of using extra virgin olive oil in and on everything. Glad you enjoyed the tip.