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How to Make Air-Popped Popcorn for Recreation & Health

With her master's in sustainable development and years-long interest in health, Susette eats, works, and lives as green as she possibly can.

This is an old air popper I bought in 1987. It still functions great. I love the butter melting tray on top that doubles as a popcorn measuring cup.

This is an old air popper I bought in 1987. It still functions great. I love the butter melting tray on top that doubles as a popcorn measuring cup.

Memories of My Air Popper

The first time I ever used an air popper to make air-popped popcorn was over 20 years ago when someone told me it made great popcorn without a lot of hassle. I asked them how it worked, and their reply told me it would save energy and make healthier popcorn, too.

I clearly remember my first experience with my new air popper. It was a summer workday in 1987. I had raced home from work to try it out during my lunch hour. I quickly read the directions, poured in the right amount of kernels, cut a thick slice of butter to melt in the tray above, and plugged it in. Then I walked into another room to find something for work while the popcorn heated.

I heard it start popping, faster and faster, and rushed eagerly back to discover popcorn merrily shooting out of the machine all over the counter and floor. I started laughing so hard I could hardly find a bowl to catch the rest. That set me up for years of pleasant popping.

Making Popcorn for Movies

Buying popcorn in a theater to enhance a good movie is a favorite common practice. However, complaining about the taste or lack of it is also common. You can fix that by making your own at home—making it taste much better than the stuff you get at the theater—and watching a movie of your choice in comfortable surroundings while saving money too. You can even match the recipes below with the type of movie you watch to have a more fulfilling and fun experience.

  • For example, make or go out to an Italian dinner. Then come home, make the Italian popcorn, and watch a European home movie or Italian opera on YouTube.
  • Or you could eat sushi for dinner, make an Asian version, and watch a kung fu movie or an Internet documentary on the history of martial arts or Asian sects of Buddhism.
  • Or you could eat a vegetarian dinner, make the hippie kind, and watch a light love movie or a YouTube rock concert of your choice.

This all sounds like so much fun, I think I'll do it myself!

Tip: If you are watching a documentary online and it keeps stopping and starting in order to load up, try putting it on pause while you go into the kitchen to pop your popcorn. The video will continue to load on pause. By the time you start it up again, it will play smoothly.

Popcorn Recipe: Italian

  • 1/2 cup popcorn kernels
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
  • Sprinkle of sea salt
  • Sprinkle of sage or marjoram, ground
The ingredients for Italian popcorn include olive oil, butter, sea salt, and ground sage or marjoram.

The ingredients for Italian popcorn include olive oil, butter, sea salt, and ground sage or marjoram.


  1. Pour popcorn kernels into the hopper. If the tray on top has a section for melting butter, add the butter and olive oil there. Otherwise, melt them separately in a saucepan.
  2. Place a bowl under the hopper and turn the machine on. After the kernels have completed popping, turn the machine off and pour any remaining popped corn into the bowl. Pour the melted butter/olive oil over the popcorn. Use two forks to distribute it evenly.
  3. Sprinkle sea salt and sage/marjoram over the top and mix with your forks. Give it a taste test and add more, if needed. This has become my favorite popcorn recipe.

Popcorn Recipe: Asian

Ingredients: Popcorn kernels, coconut oil, ginger, and sea salt.

When you add the kernels, instead of putting butter in the top tray, put a scoop of coconut oil (semi-solid in its natural state). After the popcorn has popped, mix in the coconut oil, then add ginger and a little more sea salt than normal (since coconut oil is seldom salted). You could also add a few flakes of red pepper and coconut for a light, spicy Thai flavor.

Here are the ingredients for Asian popcorn: coconut oil, ginger, sea salt.

Here are the ingredients for Asian popcorn: coconut oil, ginger, sea salt.

Popcorn Recipe: Hippie

Ingredients: Popcorn kernels, butter, brewers yeast, sea salt.

This is what we all used to make in the early hippies days (in the '60s & '70s) to make sure our version was healthy. It has a pretty good taste, once you get used to it—kind of sweet. Pop the popcorn and melt butter in the tray. Add the melted butter to the popcorn, then add a few fingers full of brewer's yeast and sea salt to taste.

These are the Hippie ingredients (I know, I should have included a flower): butter, sea salt, and brewer's yeast.

These are the Hippie ingredients (I know, I should have included a flower): butter, sea salt, and brewer's yeast.

A Sweeter Recipe

Try the recipe in this video for a toffee version. It's very sweet, so is not as healthy for you, but if you don't mind the occasional indulgence, it can be quite fun and tasty. In addition to the air-popped popcorn, the ingredients include melted butter, corn syrup, a touch of sea salt, and lots of brown sugar. I do suggest you use two forks instead of a spatula to mix the syrup into the popcorn. It gives you more control.

Try them all and let me know which one you like best!

Meanwhile, if you're interested in knowing how an air popper works and why it's better than the microwaved stuff, keep reading below.

What Is an Air Popper Anyway?

An air popper pops popcorn using heated air, rather than hot oil or microwaves. The popper's hard plastic cover has a removable tray that helps to trap and intensify the heat as it rises, and air vents on its front to prevent explosion and help create a flow. The tray on top also melts whatever meltable solid you put into it. My air popper, still the same one I used back then, starts working as soon as you plug it into the wall.

Air Popper Parts: Container, chute, butter/measuring tray

Air Popper Parts: Container, chute, butter/measuring tray

The process is pretty ingenious, really. The intense heat inside the metal tube makes the popcorn kernels explode, much as their fires used to for Native Americans. (Yes, popcorn is a gift from Native Americans—one of the many they have given the world.)

The actual popping process works as follows:

  1. Electricity spins a fan under the popper, which pulls in air through vents in the bottom of the tube (in which you've placed kernels of corn). The electricity also heats the metal of the tube, which in turn heats the air, which then rises, creating a flow of hot air spinning and rising.
  2. Because the air blows through the vents sideways, it makes the kernels spin, evening out their exposure to the heat. The heat expands water inside each kernel, cracking their covers, and letting air in through the cracks.
  3. The hot air then explodes or "pops" the kernel the rest of the way into a light, fluffy thing, which blows up and out of the popper with the same airflow and is caught by a bowl you have hopefully placed under the exit chute.

Energy Use Comparison

Air poppers save energy—kinetic (human) and gas or electric, whichever you would otherwise use to make popcorn if you cooked it over a stove. If you would otherwise use a microwave you will not save energy, but you will have a much better-tasting popcorn with the air popper that is also healthier. In what way? You can choose your own toppings (see below) to replace the microwave's fake butter.

The model I use is the West Bend Poppery II. I've been using the same popper since 1989 and have never had any problems. I've been told you can use it to roast coffee, too. West Bend still makes air poppers, even after all these years.

Other Benefits

  • There is a higher ratio of popped kernels with this method, as compared with others. If you find a number of unpopped ones, try different types of popcorn before blaming the air popper.
  • The kernels are generally lighter and fluffier than either the pan-cooked or micro-waved methods. If you microwave it, it also carries a health risk from the coating inside the bag and another from the fake butter flavoring.
  • You can choose whatever oils or flavorings you want to add. This allows you to make your own more flavorful and/or as healthy as you want it.
  • No risk of burning the popcorn or drying it out. Make sure you store the kernels in the freezer to preserve their moisture. No need to unfreeze them—just pop them right into the popper when needed.
  • Not much cleanup is required. I just pour out the few unpopped kernels and wash the little butter tray with soap and hot water. That's it.
  • Takes only 15 minutes from beginning to end (including cleanup).

Popcorn Clouds: A Poem

Clouds like popcorn filled the air with little white puffy dots and the wind blew and bumped them into each other but they just bounced off again and went skidding, sliding across the deep blue carpet of the sky until they hit the edge of it and then bounced back again and bumped into each other again and again until finally the wind stopped blowing and the popcorn clouds stopped skidding around and now when they touch each other they embrace softly and gently merge until there is finally only one big fluffy cloud all by itself left in the sky and the little playful popcorn clouds have all arrived home.

What do you think? Does one of these strike your fancy?

© 2011 Sustainable Sue