Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, I went to the movies a lot, often alone, and I’d see pretty much anything, because the golden-salty greatness that is movie theater popcorn makes seeing almost anything worthwhile. I’d order the large size (only a dollar more — they’re practically paying you to get it!), eat until my mouth hurt, then put the rest in a plastic bag to take home. Yes, I brought a plastic bag to the theater expressly for this purpose. And over the course of a dozen pre-COVID-19 Dinner at a Movie reviews, it was my total pleasure to learn more about the nuances of movie popcorn from Seattle Times film (and book, and popcorn) critic Moira Macdonald. I miss the movies and I miss Moira — but I can still see both of them, if only on a home screen. I’ve probably missed movie popcorn an inordinate amount over the last 17 years, I mean, 10 months.
But enough about me — it is a special irritant of articles such as this, promising The Best-Ever Pandemic-Times Life Hack, that a lengthy first-person preamble usually must be endured. Let’s also truncate the parts that explain the genesis of the idea (pathological jealousy of friends’ new in-home theater-grade popcorn maker, unwillingness to purchase one), the science of popcorn (hey, there’s water in there!), and all the permutations/hardships of the development of the recipe (so many different kinds of oil! So many batches!! I’ve been so thirsty lately!!!).
Really, all credit here is due to the miracle of modern(ish) food science, specifically the proprietary process that brings us all Flavacol. This violently orange powder — it is the exact color of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese dust — is made of salt, artificial flavor, two shades of FD&C Yellow and magic. It comes in a charmingly vintage-design quart-sized milk carton (unless you want to order, say, a 45-pound pail) from Gold Medal Products Co., out of Cincinnati (slogan: “Snacks, Smiles & Success!”). Heather Gims, senior communication specialist there, says Flavacol’s been around since the 1960s (hence the packaging aesthetic). The company assures that nearly all the major movie chains use it, furthermore claiming that more popcorn is popped with Flavacol than any other seasoning salt worldwide — that is, the entire known popcorn-popping universe. Flavacol is as bad for you as regular salt but worse, as it doesn’t even contain iodine, regular salt’s redeeming nutritional feature; it is, however, vegan and gluten-free (as salt tends to be), as well as kosher and halal certified. Gims, laughing a bit, politely declined to give any details about Flavacol’s proprietary process and artificial flavor. However, she was very nice, and Gold Medal is third-generation family-owned, so there’s that.
The popping medium here is a soybean oil concoction that, like Flavacol, is recommended by the manufacturer of my friends’ fancy new popcorn machine, and it is better than the numerous oils I tested that were artificial-butter-flavor-free. Movie-theater-style popcorn is science. Science also gives us vaccines. Thank you, science.
Gold Medal also sells proper popcorn poppers (92 percent made in the USA!), including home-use ones, which start at $494 and take up a fair amount of space. Gold Medal’s Gims thought it was funny that I had come up with a stovetop popcorn method using Flavacol, but my film critic friend Moira called it something else: genius. All I know is that if this helps make anyone else’s COVID-19 pandemic a little more bearable, that makes me very happy.
Movie Theater Popcorn at Home
1 teaspoon Flavacol
3 tablespoons At The Movies Popcorn Butter Flavored Popcorn Topping
1/3 cup popcorn kernels
Optional: Additional A.T.M.P.B.F.P.T., warmed (if you like “butter” on your movie popcorn), or melted butter (if you like actual butter)
Measure the Flavacol and the lengthily named Popcorn Topping into a heavier-bottomed, 3-quart or larger pot that has a lid. Stir them together thoroughly to make an alarmingly artificial-orange-colored slurry.
Add the popcorn and place over medium-high heat. As the pan heats up and sizzling begins, shake and whirl it occasionally to coat kernels in flavor-country glory and spread them in one layer. Watch for the first pop, feel the excitement, then slam on the lid.
Shake your pan back and forth gently, still on heat, while popping happens, then remove from heat immediately just as it stops — usually less than a minute.
Pour it into a large bowl right away and toss with your eager hands to mix, drizzling on optional “butter” or butter as you wish.
Eat as soon as possible in a darkened room in front of a good (or good-bad) movie (maybe “Contagion”?). Be sure to have a beverage, for this is the beautifully yellow, very salty popcorn you remember from before the global pandemic when going to the movies was still a thing (maybe make that beverage wine?).
A note on procuring supplies: Gold Medal Products Co. does sell Flavacol direct-to-popcorn-consumer, but their scale of operation is distributor-oriented, so you may find it cheaper on Amazon, where you’ll also find At The Movies Popcorn Butter Flavored Popcorn Topping. A note on salt-level: The method here approximates average movie theater popcorn, maybe a tiny bit on the yellower/saltier side; feel free, obviously, to adjust the amount of Flavacol to taste (though if you increase it, you may want to consult a physician). And on corn: Jolly Time has the best name and now also offers organic/non-GMO kernels.