The truth about movie theater popcorn butter

It adds a little bit of fun to “the hole at the bottom of the popcorn container” gag

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When I was a little kid (early 1960’s), the local theater did use butter!

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I worked in a movie theatre too, and it served real butter on the popcorn. At least that’s what was written on the jug that I microwaved everyday to make it liquid enough to put in the dispenser…


It’s not like the buttery topping was ever passed off as healthy. And doesn’t everyone know it’s not butter? I don’t see what the big deal is here. Ok, it was designed in a food lab—so what? Junk food being junk food is not surprising. I was worried the big secret was that the manufacturing process involved cruelty to humans or animals, or terrible environmental practices.


just fat and chemicals.

Sure. And that’s what butter is, too.


The naturalistic fallacy has given us a number of dumb posts on Boing Boing, unfortunately.


Hey, don’t the French have a few dishes that get doused in butter as a final coup de grace, if you will? I mean, not popcorn, obviously. But something else, like a crown roast or something?


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IIRC it was and still is popped in coconut oil. Or palm kernel oil. Coconut oil wasn’t ever the melted topping but a component of the butter flavored popping oil. And still is.

It’s extracted from wood. Vanillin is present in most hard woods, it’s why your aged whiskey has vanilla notes. It’s the same chemical as real vanilla, but the real stuff has multiple other flavor compounds in it that imitation lacks. So it’s less complex.


Frankly I’m more worried about the fact that it is warmed to an unknown (to me) temperature in a appliance cleaned at unknown intervals with a degree of thoroughness that I am unclear of. I’m reasonably certain that the oil the popcorn is popped in is hot enough to kill most bacteria. It has to be hot enough that the moisture in the kernels turns to steam. That’s how popcorn pops. That “buttery” topping…I have NO idea how comfy a medium it is for bacteria.

Edited to add: After all, we had a recent case of food poisoning from nacho cheese which is a similarly oil-based product dispensed from similar devices.


Interesting. In Ontario, our major movie chain offers both a “margarine-based” topping for free, which I presume is similar to the substance discussed here, or “butter” for .50c - I wonder if the appetite for natural foods has reached the point in the US where people would spend that extra .50c for butter now?


If you had real butter on popcorn, wouldn’t you spend half the movie with your skin stenching of rancid butter? Does artificial butter do the same? I don’t care because popcorn is dumb anyway.

“If you put butter and salt on it, it tastes like salty butter.”
― Terry Pratchett, Moving Pictures


I did not realize there were parts of France that didn’t use a lot of butter.



Same here. My first job in high school was at a movie theater. I haven’t eaten movie theater popcorn since. It was always fun accidentally burning your arm when cleaning the giant metal popcorn maker parts at closing time. “Please layer the butter!” I’d mutter under my breath about how I’d be cleaning up half of it from the floors of the theater in two hours before the rush for the next viewing of Independence Day.

Only thing I can think of is melted butter and parsley to put on meat or fish.

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True but some more than others.
(And we’re currently going through massive shortages and people are going crazy. No joke.)

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Parts of southern France olive oil is the traditional fat. The parts that are famous for foie gras and duck it’s schmaltz ( basically). And Normandy and Brittany up north are so famous for their butter that usage there puts the rest of France to shame.

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Two years ago I got a kettle style popcorn popper, and I always use coconut oil with it. I do still add artificial butter flavoring, though:

I’d use real butter, but it tends to burn.

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More empty calories for thought: a “large” popcorn at most theaters is the equivalent of eating 3 bags of microwave popcorn in one sitting.