How To Make Popcorn Without Oil

Andy Waters
Latest posts by Andy Waters (see all)

Is there anyone who doesn’t love popcorn?  A trip to the movie theater just wouldn’t be the same without it.  It’s a delicious snack, and it’s so easy to add the flavors you like if you make it yourself – butter, cinnamon, or even chocolate.

However, there’s just one thing that might put a damper on the popcorn party – the oil.  It’s true that when you pop your popcorn, you usually have to use oil to make it happen. That can be a bit of a drawback for people who are watching their calorie intake, or who just don’t like greasy food.

But is it possible to make popcorn without oil?  Yes, it is!  Read on to find out how you can have a delicious popcorn snack without the oil.  We’ll share three different methods with you here.

How To Make Popcorn Without Oil

Method 1 – Stovetop Air-Popped Popcorn

This method still uses a stovetop, like most traditional methods with oil.  To make it work you’ll need fresh popcorn kernels – emphasis on the fresh.  If you have a half-used packet in the back of your cupboard from last year, throw it out, because those kernels won’t work nearly as well.

Why won’t they?  There’s a little bit of science behind it.  Basically, popcorn kernels have water inside them, surrounded by a layer of soft starch.  Surrounding this is the outer shell.  When the kernels are heated, the water starts to expand, creating pressure against the outer shell.

Eventually, this pressure becomes too much and the shell bursts, popping the kernel inside out.  The longer the kernels are exposed to air before they’re used, the more they dry out.  This means there’s less water inside them, which makes them less likely to pop.

However, this little explanation should also have emphasized something else – you don’t actually need oil to pop the kernels.  What you need is a pot with a non-stick surface and lid that will fit tightly and stay there.

This is to make sure that the popcorn won’t stick to the pot (obviously) and to make sure that the heat and pressure in the pot are maintained.  One thing that oil does do is help the pieces of popcorn to not get burned. 

However, there’s a way to do this without oil too – simply shake the pan well every few seconds.

As long as you’re using fresh kernels and a relatively low heat, this should keep your precious popcorn unburned.  Another good thing – making popcorn this way seems to result in far fewer unpopped kernels, which is always a good thing!

Method 2 – Microwave Popcorn

It’s even easier to make popcorn using your microwave.  Put your popcorn kernels into a microwave-safe bowl with a tight-fitting cover, making sure that you leave enough room for the popcorn to expand (i.e. don’t fill it all the way to the brim).

If you don’t have a bowl that has a suitable lid, you can use saran wrap instead.  Lots of people are a bit wary about putting saran wrap in the microwave, but the USDA says that it’s actually safe to do so – there’s no scientific evidence of it being carcinogenic (causing cancer).

When you have your bowl prepared, you’re ready to start cooking.  Set your microwave to high and put them in for 3-5 minutes.  You can start with 3 and then put it back in later if there are still kernels to be popped.

When it’s in and cooking, listen for the sound of popping.  When the sound stops or becomes very irregular, then it’s time to take the popcorn out – it’s done.

Method 3 – Instant Pot Popcorn

Not everybody has an instant pot and to be honest, it’s probably not worth buying one if all you want to use it for is making popcorn.  However, if you do have one, you certainly can use it for that purpose.

It’s quite straightforward – put the kernels in the pot, and like with the microwave method, make sure there’s enough space for them to expand.  Set the pot to high pressure and let them cook – 3 minutes should do the trick.

Listen out for the popping sounds and when you hear them stop or become very irregular, your popcorn’s ready.  If you’re looking at other recipes online, you might see that instant pot popcorn recipes often call for oil, but it’s not actually necessary.  Use it if you want to, but otherwise follow the instructions above.

Things To Avoid

You’ve already seen how to do it more than one right way, but perhaps you still have some other ideas in mind that you’d like to try.  Well, if the idea is one of the pens below, you might want to give it a miss!

Boiling The Popcorn

While it is possible to use a little bit of water to replace the oil when making stovetop popcorn if you don’t want to just air fry it, don’t add enough for the popcorn to be floating in it.  If you do that, the kernels will just boil and never pop.

There are few things in life as disappointing as opening a pot, hoping to find delicious freshly popped popcorn there, and instead finding a soggy mess of boiled corn.

Burning The Popcorn

Obviously, you don’t want to burn it.  Oil helps prevent this by adding a layer in between the corn and the pan, so you have to be especially careful if you’re not using it.

Keep the pan on a lower heat than you would normally use (a maximum of 390F) and make sure you shake the pan regularly to avoid ending up with lumps of charcoal instead of popcorn.

Final Thoughts

Now you should have all the information you need to boldly go forth and make limitless quantities of your own popcorn without the need for oil or any other kind of fat.  Just remember that if you’re using a stovetop, keep the heat on low and shake the pan to avoid burning.