Popcorn. It’s corn, isn’t it? Is microwave popcorn vegan? Well… yes… and no. In this article, we will take you through when popcorn is vegan, when it’s not vegan, as well as answer the question, is microwave popcorn vegan.
So, What is Popcorn?
Popcorn, in its basic form, is popped corn kernels.
This alone is fine. It’s vegan. So, if you take the correct corn kernels and pop them yourself, then that’ll be fine.
What some readers may not know is that popcorn is made from a single type of corn. This variety will ‘pop’ whereas other corn will not.
The seed, also known as a kernel, has some water inside it. When heated, it creates pressure inside the kernel itself.
This is why when heating up or microwaving the popcorn, it will eventually pop open and make the continuous popping sounds for minutes once the right temperature has been reached.
As a snack, it’s nutritious and healthy. And vegan.
Yet, especially microwave popcorn sold by retailers, including movie theaters, will contain many additional ingredients for added taste.
Many of these are non-vegan popcorn ingredients and should be avoided. The trick is to know what to look for.
Here are some examples of this:
Non-Vegan Popcorn Ingredients
Oils & Butter
Different types of oils are added to popcorn to avoid it drying out and to make it more palatable.
Palm oil is a common one, which vegans take considerable issue with because of how its planted, managed, and processed.
For more on the ethical, and vegan debate around palm oil, check out our article on this.
Other types of oils may or may not be acceptable. Certainly, there are vegan oils such as sesame oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, olive oil, and others that work as a replacement.
Butter is a common addition, particularly with microwave popcorn and especially with some flavors including toffee.
However, vegan butter and even some of the oils listed above are all good replacements for non-vegan ingredients.
Popcorn snack producers only have to be willing to use them in their products.
Artificial colors are frequently present in our foods.
They help to create a more appealing or more appetizing appearance.
Sometimes, the mix of ingredients just doesn’t look great when combined even if they taste terrific and have a tempting aroma too.
It’s not enough to just ask consumers to close their eyes and consume the product – its initial appearance can be too off-putting.
Some artificial colors may include undesirable ingredients to help the popcorn look the part.
Others may change the flavor or be a substitute for more expensive ingredients like butter. For example, Diacetyl is included in many brown-hued popcorns, like butterscotch or caramel.
There are health questions surrounding Diacetyl relating to lung concerns, so this is a good reason to only consume vegan popcorn.
Other additives like acetyl propionyl could be included too.
Ultimately, avoiding artificial coloring becomes important for our health. Avoiding them adroitly sidesteps many potential health considerations surrounding them that are not fully understood or well researched yet.
Various sugars along with artificial ones may be included in popcorn.
Certainly, microwave popcorn won’t be sweet unless sweetness is added somehow. This could be directly from sugar, or a sticky coating or sugar mix.
Artificial sweeteners might be fine for vegans. But most would prefer that they be plant-based wherever possible.
Stevia is plant-based, from Brazil. Monk fruit can act as a sweetener too. Date syrup or agave nectar is possible as well.
All are great options to add to your microwave popcorn to make it vegan.
Is Microwave Popcorn Vegan?
It’s possible for the popcorn to accidentally be vegan simply because it’s plain popcorn, unseasoned except for sea salt.
This can be sold in a microwavable popcorn packet, and then microwaved according to the instructions on the packet.
Vegan microwave popcorn is a thing too.
This could be popcorn that uses all vegan ingredients, flavoring, colorings, and seasonings.
It should be from all from non-animal sources and no animal by-products either.
This applies even to something equivalent to butter popcorn or other popcorn flavor varieties that use vegan butter, vegan-approved oils, spices, herbs, and other ingredients that hit the mark.
On the flip side of that coin is microwave popcorn, usually from big brands, that is not vegan.
These are mostly found in big box stores – not in specialty stores or sold online – that quite often aren’t vegan.
The butter, oils, and other flavorings and/or artificial colors won’t get close to meeting the standard required.
Happiness is in the details when it comes to vegan microwave popcorn.
Best Vegan Microwave Popcorn
The good news is that there is vegan microwave popcorn that will satisfy you.
Newman’s Own Popcorn, as you might expect, has at least two vegan popcorn varieties. Currently, these are Sea Salt Popcorn and their Tender White one too.
For some tangy flavor, the Skinny Girl Lime and Sea Salt are bound to please.
Also, the Orville Redenbacher’s Popcorn in some varieties is vegan. Most notably Kettle Corn.
Is Pre-Popped Popcorn Vegan?
Just because the popcorn is pre-popped doesn’t mean it’s vegan any more than non-pre-popped popcorn is.
It is all about what has been added to the kernel, pre-popped or otherwise, rather than what stage the corn is at.
You should note from the above vegan popcorn examples that many of the ones don’t bother to try to emulate the taste of butter or caramel or toffee.
Certainly, some do, but many producers will stick to the basic popcorn taste and add some sea salt, or something else innocuous.
By keeping it simple and focusing on quality including foil-sealed packets to keep the seeds fresh, it takes care of most of the details.
How to Tell if Popcorn is Vegan
White popcorn that’s salted is likelier to be vegan than any other variety. This is because the typical microwave popcorn flavors include butterscotch, butter, toffee, or other non-vegan ingredients.
These all tend to use milk, butter, brown sugar, and artificial flavorings, to achieve their results.
Essentially, the further they stray from the white popcorn and a bit of sea salt added, the greater the need to check the ingredients carefully!
With popcorn, that’s a good rule of thumb.
Except for specialist vegan food producers where they will be using so many vegan-friendly ingredients and feel they have the facilities to produce something authentic tasting but vegan to its core.
Summary: Is Microwave Popcorn Vegan?
Microwave popcorn can be vegan. Yet, consumers should be very aware that popcorn often has palm oil added (some estimates are that half of the supermarket foods include palm oil). This should rule out many of these popcorn products immediately. From the remainder, it’s necessary to look at what oil they used, the butter or alternative such as vegan butter included, along with extra ingredients, additives, colorings, etc.
It is possible to make a microwave vegan popcorn that is similar to caramel, toffee, or other darker tones and flavors. Yet, this requires a considerable commitment to using different ingredients in quantity. For microwavable popcorn that might be a small product line for the mass food producer, it may not seem worth it.
Vegans wanting to consume some popcorn should either look for dedicated vegan food brands or stick to plain popcorn that’s been salted. It’s still possible to go wrong with the oils used or other ingredients added beyond corn and sea salt, but it’s easier to find a vegan microwave popcorn in the aisle that way.