If you’ve got a bit of a sweet tooth, there’s a good chance you enjoy a generous helping of popcorn at the movies. For decades, popcorn has been the go-to snack for theatre-goers and fairground fanatics, but kettle corn has been making a bit of a name for itself in recent years.
If you’ve been on a leisurely outing recently, you’ve probably seen kettle corn offered as an alternative to the humble popcorn. But what is the difference between kettle corn and popcorn? Is there a difference at all? And should you give this funky alternative a taste or stick to the traditional favorite?
What is Popcorn?
Popcorn comes from a type of corn kernel that, when heated, expands with moisture. This moisture turns to steam, which causes the kernel to puff up and create popcorn.
These fluffy clumps of deliciousness now come in various flavors, from the classic sweet and salted to toffee, almond, caramel, cinnamon, and MANY more. Popcorn can be bought ready-made at your local grocery store, made at home on your stovetop, or made from a store-bought ready-to-cook bag.
Although you might think popcorn is a recent phenomenon, fossilized evidence from Peru indicates that corn was popped as far back as 4700BC! However, this classic family favorite didn’t truly surge in popularity until the 1800s, when Americans began to create their very own recipes. The steam-powered popcorn maker hit the market in 1885, and the rest is history!
What is Kettle Corn?
Like popcorn, kettle corn is also made from popping corn. Kettle corn also looks INCREDIBLY similar to popcorn – in fact, you probably wouldn’t notice the difference without a close inspection!
Kettle corn also comes in a variety of flavors. These include the popcorn classics like sweet, salted, caramel, and toffee, to some wackier recipes like cheesy cheddar. And, just like popcorn, you can buy kettle corn from the store or prepare it at home. So, we know what you’re thinking… popcorn and kettle corn are the same, right?
Well, no, not quite.
Although kettle corn and popcorn may seem like two peas in a pod, they have some fundamental differences. The most significant difference is in the types of kernels.
Kettle Corn Kernels vs Popcorn Kernels
Kettle corn famously uses the mushroom kernel. The mushroom kernel refers to the shape of the kernels once they’re popped. These kernels give kettle corn its prominent, round appearance that looks a little less sporadic than popcorn.
Now, if you take a closer look at your next bag of popcorn, you’ll notice the popped kernels have what can be described as ‘arms’ or ‘wings’ stemming out from the corn. For this reason, popcorn is described as having butterfly-type kernels.
From a distance, these two may look the same, but on close inspection, you’ll find their physical appearance differs drastically.
Kettle Corn vs Popcorn: Preparation
There are also some significant differences in preparation between kettle corn and popcorn. In short, popcorn can be prepared in various ways, but kettle corn has only one method.
Kettle corn is made with a large kettle and a large mixing paddle that resembles a boat oar. The large iron kettle is carefully oiled, and the popcorn is popped in here before it’s tossed with sugar and salt. The oil used in the iron kettle helps the popped kernels preserve their seasoning.
Kettle Corn vs Popcorn: Flavor
Another notable difference between kettle corn and popcorn is the flavor. If you follow a traditional recipe when cooking your popcorn, you’ll probably season it with butter and salt to give it its classic taste.
On the contrary, kettle corn is a predominantly sweet snack, and you can only identify a salty taste in trace amounts. Even though kettle corn and popcorn are both available in various flavors, you’ll notice the difference between their sweet and salty foundation with almost any flavor variation. In short, caramel kettle corn and caramel popcorn WON’T taste the same.
Is Kettle Corn Healthier Than Popcorn?
This is the real question – which is healthier?
Well, popcorn is a pretty healthy snack itself. Popcorn has a high fiber content, and an average-sized serving can give you a generous dose of folate, niacin, vitamins B6, A, E, and riboflavin. However, the nutritional value can decrease if you’re being a little too heavy-handed with the salt, sugar, and other flavorings. The preparation method can also determine how healthy your popcorn is.
Air-popped popcorn is considered the healthiest option; it contains few calories, trace amounts of fat, and absolutely 0 cholesterol.
Kettle corn doesn’t have as many nutrients as your traditional popcorn, but it still has a small amount of protein and average calorie content of 64 calories per cup. This compares to around 31 calories in a cup of air-popped popcorn.
So, if you’re on a diet, kettle corn might not be suitable for you.
Kettle corn is also much sweeter than popcorn. Now, there DEFINITELY isn’t as much fat in kettle corn as you’d find in movie theatre popcorn, but this high sugar content increases the number of calories and can impact your body’s metabolism.
Kettle Corn vs Popcorn: Final Verdict
Kettle corn and popcorn are both delicious (and sometimes nutritious) snack choices for your theatre trip or fairground outing. However, there are some notable differences between the two, including:
- Sugar Content
- Preparation Methods
Although kettle corn is often praised as the healthier alternative, this isn’t always true. Popcorn can be a healthy snack if it’s prepared without oil and not drowned in salt and sugar. Instead, kettle corn contains more sugar, increasing its calorie count per serving.
Ultimately, these snacks are both delicious and INCREDIBLY similar. However, popcorn actually takes the crown here for the healthiest option. If you remember to ease up on the crazy flavors, salt, and sugar, you can enjoy either option as a healthy snack in moderation.