23 Ways to Top Your Popcorn (for Under 150 Calories)


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
  :  102 comments   :  770,780 Views

My favorite snack of late is air-popped popcorn. A whopping 3 cups of air-popped popcorn is a mighty filling whole-grain snack yet only has 92 calories, plus 19 g carbs, 3 g protein, and 4 g fiber. But have you ever eaten plain air-popped popcorn? It can be rather bland and dry. As the saying goes, the secret's in the sauce. For under 150 calories, you can flavor your popcorn in plenty of ways. Salty or sweet, spicy or savory--it's up to you.

Once you've popped your popcorn, it's time for the seasoning. To get your dry herbs, spices and other seasonings to stick, you'll need a little liquid, usually in the form of a fat. A little goes a long way, but you can even have butter on your popcorn without going over 150 calories!

Wondering how these varieties stack up against the tins of gourmet popcorn we're all bombarded with during the holidays? While these all have 150 calories or less, the cheese, buttered or caramel versions can have up to 300 calories in a little more than a cup, with 18 g fat!

Let's get popping!
Melt your fat and use a mister if possible for even spreading. Tip: Pour half your popcorn into a bowl, add half the fat, half the seasonings, then repeat for better distribution of ingredients.

Fat (1 teaspoon) Calories Fat (g)
Olive oil 20 2
Butter (salted)* 34 4
Truffle oil or other flavored oil 50 5
Coconut oil 39 5
* plus 27 mg sodium

I also use a spritz bottle of Bragg's liquid aminos in place of salt (0 cals, 55 mg sodium in 1/4 tsp) and fat sometimes.
Ready for some pumped-up popcorn toppings?

Sweet Popcorn Toppings

Chocolate: Sprinkle on hot popcorn 1 tablespoon mini chocolate chips (50 cals). You don't need any fat, but maybe a pinch of salt. Toss well, and grab napkins. This one is messy. You could also swap in other flavors of chips: peanut butter, butterscotch, mint-chocolate… the possibilities are endless (and messy)!

Mexican Chocolate: Sprinkle on a teaspoon of butter, then a few shakes of cinnamon a dash of cayenne and a teaspoon or so of unsweetened cocoa powder (20 cals).

Cinnamon-Sugar: 1 teaspoon unsalted butter (34 cals) or coconut oil (39 cals), 1 teaspoon sugar (16 cals; choose brown sugar for more flavor), cinnamon to taste (3 cals). Sprinkle the sugar on the buttered popcorn, then shake on the cinnamon. Other good combos: sugar and chai spices, sugar and pumpkin pie spice, powdered ginger and sugar, vanilla or lavender sugar.

Buttery Maple: Drizzle on 1 teaspoon salted butter (34 cals) and 1 teaspoon maple syrup (17 cals). Eat immediately because this will get soggy in places. For added flavor, sprinkle on ground rosemary or black pepper.

Savory Popcorn Toppings

The possibilities here stretch the length of the herbs and spices aisle at the supermarket. Start with your teaspoon of fat, then sprinkle on as many herbs and spices as you desire. They're virtually fat-free and incredibly low in calories.
If your herbs and spices are not powdered, use a spice grinder or mortar and pestle so they'll sprinkle on popcorn more easily.

Here are some suggestions (be sure to choose salt-free seasonings):
  • Italian seasonings (oregano, fennel, red pepper flakes, marjoram, and basil) with olive oil
  • Curry powder (red or yellow) with coconut oil
  • Lemon-pepper and butter
  • Garlic powder and butter or olive oil
  • Rosemary, thyme, and sage with olive oil
  • Jerk seasoning and coconut oil
  • Old Bay seasoning, dried lemon zest, and butter
  • Herbes de Provence and butter
  • Tarragon, dried mustard and butter
  • Smoked paprika and olive oil
  • Five spice powder and coconut oil

Salty Popcorn Toppings

Cheesy: Skip the oil and sprinkle on 1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese (23 cals). You can use the fancy stuff, but the canned variety works really well on popcorn! For pizza popcorn, add dried oregano and red pepper flakes.

Cheezy: If you don't eat cheese, go for nutritional yeast. Sprinkle on two tablespoons of "nootch" (60 cals) atop popcorn drizzled with Bragg's (0 cals). Take this over the top with a sprinkle of smoked paprika (3 cals). BONUS: 2 T nutritional yeast has 8 g protein and 6 g fiber!

Gomashio: This Japanese condiment is perfect atop popcorn. A mix of sesame seeds, nori (seaweed) and salt, it adds texture and saltiness. Sprinkle on 1 tablespoon (30 cals) along with 1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil (20 cals).

Ranch: Start with a teaspoon of unsalted butter (34 cals), then sprinkle on one teaspoon ranch dressing mix (15 calories). This amount contains 405 mg sodium, so feel free to cut back.

Flavored Salt: Used sparingly, you can accommodate a bit of salt on your popcorn. In 1/4 teaspoon, you'll add 581 mg sodium to your day. Choose flavored salts for an extra boost of flavor. Sprinkle on after adding your fat of choice.

Spicy Popcorn Toppings

Buffalo: Mix equal parts hot sauce and butter, then sprinkle on your popcorn. This will make it a bit soggy and messy, but it's so good. Sprinkle on nutritional yeast (30 cals per tablespoon) for more flavor.

Chili-Spiced: If you don't want such a messy snack, reach for chili powder. (Try chipotle powder, which will add a bit of smoky flavor.) You can also use a teaspoon of taco seasoning, but choose salt-free varieties.

Fiery Wasabi: For a sinus-clearing snack, sprinkle on wasabi powder to taste (0 cals in 1/4 teaspoon) along with 1/4 teaspoon Bragg's or low-sodium soy sauce and 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil (20 cals).

Here's a bonus recipe for all your sweet popcorn fans out there. Try Chef Meg's Caramel Popcorn, from The SparkPeople Cookbooknow in paperback!

Which kind of popcorn do you prefer? Salty or sweet? Savory or spicy? Do you have any other toppings suggestions?

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    When I'm in the mood for some sweet popcorn I sprinkle on pumpkin pie seasoning. I'm really looking forward to trying several of the options here. - 6/4/2013   5:35:28 PM
  • 51
    Despite buying kernels on several occasions I've never yet made popcorn from scratch - my favourite popcorn used to be cheese popcorn but now a huge fan of the salty n sweet. Think that will be displaced by some of the savoury suggestions here esp. the pizza popcorn. - 6/4/2013   5:18:47 PM
  • 50
    I love popcorn and this just made it better! - 6/4/2013   4:41:59 PM
  • 49
    These are some excellent ideas for popcorn! Thank you! - 6/4/2013   3:39:33 PM
    I love air-popped popcorn plain! Nothing bland about it. Great ideas here, but for me, adding something makes it "not so healthy" - 6/4/2013   3:18:46 PM
    I use a Glass Popcorn Popper I bought from Lakeside.com. I love it. You just pour 1/3 cup of popcorn in it and put a dab of butter on the top of the silicone lid. It melts down on the corn while popping. Thats it! I'm sure you creative people could come up with other things to flavor it with. - 6/4/2013   11:49:37 AM
  • 46
    I usually put my air popped corn in a paper bag, spray with vegetable oil, and sprinkle with Splenda and cayenne pepper and shake for a sweet and spicy taste.
    I can't wait to try some of these toppings - they really sound yummy. - 4/11/2013   9:50:13 AM
  • 45
    I tried the pizza one but used cajun spice instead of red pepper. I also love the ranch
    - 2/23/2013   8:54:55 PM
  • 44
    I put organic popcorn kernels directly into a brown paper lunch bag, seal it by tearing two slits in top and folding over and putting it in the microwave. I add toppings after. It's a great snack! - 2/13/2013   10:38:12 PM
  • SVATEK07
    Bagged microwave popcorn you buy in the stores has carcinogens on the inside of the bags. For a healthy way to pop in the microwave try this:
    Fill a large size brown lunch bag with 1/3 cup popcorn kernels, fold top over twice, lay down flat in microwave and use your popcorn button on the microwave. I spritz mine then with olive oil and add a little sea salt. Delicious! - 2/5/2013   10:39:07 AM
  • 42
    We made this rub to use on pork when my husband fires up his barbecue smoker. I tried it on popcorn one day, and it is FABULOUS! It's a little bit sweet, and a little bit spicy, but very tasty!! (Credit to the website www.amazingribs.com )
    Meathead's Memphis Dust Recipe
    Yield. Makes about 3 cups. I typically use about 1 tablespoon per side of a slab of St. Louis cut ribs, and a bit less for baby backs. Store the extra in a zipper bag or a glass jar with a tight lid.
    Preparation time. 10 minutes to find everything and 5 minutes to dump them together.

    3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
    3/4 cup white sugar
    1/2 cup paprika
    1/4 cup Morton's kosher salt
    1/4 cup garlic powder
    2 tablespoons ground black pepper
    2 tablespoons ground ginger powder
    2 tablespoons onion powder
    2 teaspoons rosemary - 1/21/2013   12:00:59 AM
    First, we cut several bell peppers into strips, thinly slice half a small onion and fry in a bit of olive oil or broil until tender with a few blackened edges. While the strips are cooking we air-pop or olive oil-pop up about 12 cups of corn. The veggies are added to the popcorn and sprinkled with a tablespoon or two of Parmesan cheese. To add heat we sometimes toss a sliced jalapeno in the pan. Sometimes we vary the flavor by adding thin strips of dill pickle. We never add salt. Try it! - 1/20/2013   3:51:08 PM
  • 40
    has anyone tried peanut butter powder on popcorn? I have some of it but haven't tried it on popcorn yet. - 1/20/2013   12:40:10 AM
    Just to cure my curiosity, can someone help me figure out how many calories are in a bag of my microwave popcorn? It is Fit & Active Butter flavor. The box says there are six - 2.7 oz (76g) bags in the box . Now, on the back it says that a serving size is 3 Tbsp (37g) and that it makes about 5 cups popped, and there are 2 servings per bag. So, does anyone think that a bag of microwave popcorn is 10 cups of popcorn? One cup popped is 20 calories, so in my calorie counter I have that a bag is 200 calories (20 cals x 10 cups). Anyone agree?? And yes, I do worry myself :-). - 1/19/2013   2:32:57 PM
  • 38
    Jacfrank, an air popper just sits on your counter and pops corn without any oil, just hot air. Those microwave bags have a plate that allows the microwaves to pop the kernels and they also add oil to the bag. Air-popped is much healthier and you have all the control in how much butter/coconut oil/olive oil you use and what seasonings to put on it, too. - 1/19/2013   9:24:36 AM
  • 37
    Thanks for so many ways to update one of my favorite snacks! - 1/18/2013   10:43:44 AM
    sounds tasty - 1/17/2013   6:40:59 PM
  • 35
    January 19 is . . . . National Popcorn Day, it's not too early to start celebrating!
    - 1/17/2013   2:09:59 PM
  • 34
    Am a huge fan of air-popped popcorn. I have a sprayer/mister for oil that I use. Can't wait to try these flavoring options! - 1/17/2013   1:08:53 PM
  • 33
    I spritz the popcorn with Pam and then sprinkle with Mrs. Dash's Mexican Seasoning Blend. - 1/17/2013   12:52:08 PM
  • 32
    I love air popped popcorn! I'd found directions on what to do on pinterest last year. We don't actually add any seasonings to it, but I'm excited to try out some of these combos!
    Side note: My MIL's microwave does not do air popped popcorn. I'm not sure what is different about hers (brand new, I might add), so there is a chance that it won't work for everyone. - 1/17/2013   11:11:45 AM
  • 31
    Stupid question...what is air popped popcorn? How is it different from the microwave bags? - 1/17/2013   10:11:41 AM
    Microwave popcorn is full of trans fat. I season my popcorn BEFORE popping in a microwave popcorn bowl. I use 1 tsp oil, 1/2 cup popcorn, top with parmesan cheese, turmeric (which tricks your mind into thinking its cheddar cheese from the color yet is a mild flavor) garlic salt & pepper. Yum! - 1/17/2013   10:06:19 AM
  • 29
    Great ideas. We really enjoy hot air popped popcorn and these are some great suggestions for toppings. Just one correction - olive oil has 40 calories per teaspoon, not 20 as the list shows. - 1/17/2013   8:20:45 AM
  • 28
    I pop mine in oil--either olive or canola--and add some hot paprika and garlic salt. So good! - 1/17/2013   6:21:49 AM
  • 27
    I make my popcorn with olive oil and seasalt in the pan as I pop it (not air, but in the skillet). That's enough seasoning for me! Popcorn is my favorite snack ever. :D - 1/17/2013   2:23:49 AM
  • 26
    I LOVE popcorn! Can't wait to try some of these great combinations! - 1/17/2013   1:36:15 AM
  • 25
    I tried to find a bag of popcorn today intending to try one of these ideas but they didn't have any! I like sweet like kettle popcorn and caramel. Caramel is the recipe I want to try. I've had the cinnamon on it too and parmesan is good also. Thanks for ALL these GREAT ideas!!! :))) - 1/17/2013   12:28:21 AM
  • 24
    I like jalapeņos with my popcorn :) - 1/17/2013   12:24:05 AM
    Garlic & olive oil yum! - 1/16/2013   11:24:22 PM
  • 22
    These are great ideas!! I'm ready to pop some popcorn right now. :) - 1/16/2013   9:55:38 PM
  • 21
    Wow !! I am very excited to have found this blog..I love pop corn..but loaded with all the good stuff..so generally leave it alone..But now I am going to experiment..Thanks again !!1 - 1/16/2013   9:36:46 PM
  • 20
    I'll be trying everyone of these!! - 1/16/2013   9:34:08 PM
  • 19
    Even with butter on it I think it has to be better for you than most of those microwave bag popcorns. They're just nasty. Great Blog by the way . - 1/16/2013   8:58:35 PM
  • 18
    Sounds so good. Glad to find this blog and the great ideas. - 1/16/2013   8:25:21 PM
    I love putting garlic powder and italian herbs on my popcorn! It's the best! - 1/16/2013   7:18:21 PM
  • 16
    I've been putting curry powder on my popcorn for years and people STILL look at me strangely. ;-) - 1/16/2013   6:51:04 PM
  • 15
    Cabot cheddar shake is my fave. 45 calories for 2T and the flavor is so good you don't need much. - 1/16/2013   6:40:25 PM
  • 14
    I love popcorn!! I like to sprinkle Brewer's Yeast (Nutritional Yeast) on it or mix a little butter with honey and sprinkle a taddy bit of salt. Or some garlic salt. - 1/16/2013   6:34:48 PM
  • 13
    Yum! I definitely want to try some of these. I've been using spray canola oil and parmesan cheese and am getting bored! This came at the perfect time! - 1/16/2013   6:27:14 PM
  • 12
    Thanks for showing that I have other choices!!! - 1/16/2013   4:51:46 PM
    We LOVE popcorn as a snack. Thanks for the ideas. We pop our own in our "Whirley Pop" so that we can control the oil and salt. We have found that if we blend salt in a blender so that it is very fine, it sticks to the popcorn better. YUM! - 1/16/2013   4:29:28 PM
  • 10
    These are great ideas. I've started making my popcorn on the stove with a little olive oil. It's easier than pouring oil or butter on the popped kernals and then mixing. I've tried doing air popped in machines and in the microwave, but there are always a lot of kernals that don't pop. makes me nuts! - 1/16/2013   4:16:44 PM
  • 9
    I microwave popcorn in a brown paper bag all the time! It is so easy and super cheap. Once its popped I can toss in any herbs or seasonings (I like cinnamon best) right in the bag, close it back up and shake to coat :) - 1/16/2013   3:35:24 PM
  • 8
    OMG I LOVE popcorn--even the "bland" unflavored kind. I read a news article this morning that suggested using regular popcorn in a brown paper sack in the microwave instead of buying microwave popcorn, because of some of the ingredients that find their way into the secret recipes...

    My favorite way to eat it lately is to have a handful of caramel popcorn thrown in with regular salted or cheese flavored popcorn... a little salty and a little sweet! - 1/16/2013   3:20:44 PM
  • 7
    Wow! What an awesome list of creative ideas. I haven't been eating popcorn lately and I LOVE it. This will inspire me to "get popping" as you said. Thanks!
    - 1/16/2013   3:09:53 PM
  • 6
    I use the Pam butter spray for my oil, love all the ideas! Popcorn is my favorite snack.. - 1/16/2013   2:50:48 PM
  • 5
    i like mine with ICBINB and a pinch of salt. Sometimes I use parmesan cheese...especially if I want to insure my husband and daughter leave my popcorn alone! - 1/16/2013   2:04:38 PM
  • 4
    I like air popped and I am learning to eat it plan. - 1/16/2013   2:01:44 PM
  • 3
    But I like my air-popped popcorn absolutely plain!! - 1/16/2013   1:58:39 PM

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