The truth about movie theater popcorn butter

The “good” news: the reason it is 20% more calories than butter is that butter is 20% water. Popcorn topping is pure oil with no water or in it, which probably makes it a relatively inhospitable place for bacteria. Even butter doesn’t tend to breed bacteria. It doesn’t have much lactose sugar for them to eat. Butter goes bad by oxidation and chemical breakdown before spoilage organisms can get to it.


That depends on whether it’s “natural vanilla flavor” (which will be castoretum, AKA “extract of beaver butt”) or just “vanilla flavor” or "artificial vanilla flavor). which will be vanillin.

I once worked in the air movement and control industry (fans, ventilators, dampers, louvers, etc). I was told there was at least one cinema owner who, instead of venting his popcorn machine to the roof (as one would normally do with a kitchen hood), ducted the popcorn aroma back into the cinema auditorium(s), so all his patrons would get an extra whiff of buttery goodness, and buy more popcorn.

1 Like

I think you might be interested to know that science has actually studied the differences between how the human body treats lauric acid and palmitic acid and their affects on cardiovascular health. The term saturated simply refers to the hydrogen chain attached to the fat, different saturated fats are handled very differently. Also might be interesting to study the impact of medium chain triglycerides on human lipid metabolism, since coconut oil is 15% medium chain.

There is a world of difference between 1950 saturated fat studies and this milleniums studies.

People who read “too much saturated fats are bad and coconut oil is a saturated fat” might mistakenly conflate it with “all saturated fats are similar in health impacts” which isn’t correct all, or they might completely miss that “saturated fats are necessary for life, so much so that your body makes them itself in large quantities which is why so many animals are full of the stuff”.

The only health issue with saturated fats is when too many are consumed they raise bad cholesterol. It is a quantity issue. Too little saturated fats are also unhealthy.

Saturated fats aren’t unhealthy unless in excess, same as many substances.
Different saturated fats have very different health impacts.


“Candy whore.” Love it. When i was a line cook, we called the employee who handled salad and cold food the “salad bitch,” regardless of sex.

1 Like

I gave you a like for that important info (despite it’s grossness). I guess this could happen in other fast food places.

1 Like

I worked at a theater chain in the 80s. There were at least 20 different hands in the popcorn bin any given weekend. Both serving and snacking.

1 Like

For the USDA “natural” flavorings are extracted direct from ingredients (like the Vanillin in imitation vanilla extract). Where as “artificial” flavorings are made in a lab by reacting chemicals (which may have been extracted from whole ingredients). The natural and artificial versions of a flavoring may be identical chemically. The only difference is the source.

Castoreum is pricey. Like real vanilla pricey. And while it can be used as a component in natural vanilla flavoring.

It’s not what’s in your jar of vanilla extract. Vanillin is the most common non vanilla vanilla flavoring. For processed foods very small amounts of Castoreum are used to bring some of the real vanilla complexity Vanillin lacks. That qualifies as “natural” because beaver secretions combined with wood extracts are all derived as whole chemicals direct from natural products.

And Castoreum’s most common use is still in perfumes and cosmetics rather than flavorings.

Castoreum gets a lot of attention because “eww beaver butt squeezins”. But the bulk of even the Castoreum containting ones are just Vanillin extracted from wood pulp.


Q:   But you had to keep a running count of how many you recycled, so you’d know how much to steal from the till?

You use the butter as a topping rather than popping the corn in it.

The problem with that is the water content in the butter makes the corn soggy.

You can fix this by clarifying/browning the butter first to cook out the water. And tossing the popcorn with a small amount at a time.

Ghee works great if you don’t want to take the time.

And clarified butter that’s been strained. Or ghee (which is basically just clarified butter that has been strained). Has a much higher smoke point than regular butter so you might be able to pop corn right in it if that’s your goal.


Yellow colored food flavor, it’s the stuff that I crave.
Yellow colored food flavor, it’s the point of this rave.

They call it yellow flavor,
Quite rightly.

1 Like

I still want it

I never said a thing about vanilla extract; that, in fact, is all you =). But thanks for the rest.

I use ghee, which is basically butter oil. All the milk solids have been removed, so it has a higher smoke point. Combined 1:1 with high heat safflower oil, I get little or no smoke. Great combo.

(Edit: Just scrolled up and saw that @Ryuthrowsstuff beat me to it. So now you can pop away with ghee and double the confidence!)


This! I used to do half coconut oil/half butter in my popper (enclosed small electric kettle, like a mini version of what theatres use). Good, but sometimes I’d get burnt butter flavours in the popcorn.

Switched to just ghee. Perfect. No burnt taste, with slight butter taste. Enough that I don’t usually add real butter over the bowl.

1 Like


1 Like



When I worked at a movie theater in the '70s, the popcorn flavoring was large jars of “100% butterfat”, so, yeah, basically same as ghee.

1 Like

I’ve tried coconut oil. Don’t particularly like it. Leaves a weird sort of sweetness to the corn. Though I’m sure that’s something to do with the hippy healthfood nature of the coconut oil we have on hand.

Instead I usually pop in ghee or neutral vegetable oil. And I’ll toss it in some butter I’ve quickly foamed out or browned before hand. I’ve been tossing onion powder, fresh garlic and herbs in there while it goes. Tossing flavorings in the popcorn direct, even dried spices, doesn’t work too well. And if you attempt to add it to the popping fat it burns. So cooking the water out the butter, even in the microwave, with the spices in there seems to be the best way to get a strong, evenly distributed flavor on the pop corn.