Olive vs. Corn Oil to Cook Popcorn

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Make a big bowl of popcorn for family movie night.
Make a big bowl of popcorn for family movie night. (Image: Jupiterimages/Pixland/Getty Images)

Stove-top popcorn is a healthy snack, and kids -- or anyone who is young at heart -- will love the excitement of listening to the kernels pop. The type of oil you use to pop the corn will affect the nutritional content and flavor profile of the finished popcorn. Olive oil and corn oil are just a few of the options you have when making popcorn.

Olive Oil

Olive oil has a rich, fruity flavor that will give your stove-top popcorn a gourmet flair. You may have heard that olive oil has a low smoke point and should not be used for frying, but according to The Olive Oil Times, high quality extra virgin olive oil has a smoke point of about 410 degrees Fahrenheit. Most stove-top frying, including cooking popcorn, uses temperatures around 250 to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, so feel free to use olive oil for popcorn if you enjoy the flavor. Popcorn popped in olive oil tastes great topped with grated Parmesan and crushed rosemary, tarragon or other herbs.

Corn Oil

Corn oil is ideal for frying, because unlike most oils, the flavor improves as you heat it. However, according the University of Kansas Medical Center, corn oil contains high amounts of polyunsaturated fatty acids, and when heated these fatty acids oxidize and become unhealthy. Popcorn popped in corn oil should not be an everyday snack, but if you're craving that junky, fast-food flavor it might hit the spot.

Other Oils

Movie theaters often use coconut oil to pop their popcorn, and you can melt down coconut oil at home to give your popcorn the same rich, decadent taste. Peanut oil has a high smoke point, making it great for frying, and will give your popcorn a slightly nutty flavor. Canola oil is very mild and neutral in taste, and it really lets the flavor of the popcorn and toppings shine. Do not use butter for cooking popcorn -- it burns far too easily. Instead, melt butter in a separate pan and drizzle it over the popcorn after it's been popped.

How to Make Popcorn

Popcorn can be made in any large, wide-bottomed pot with a lid, such as a stock pot, or in a specially designed popcorn pan with a built-in stirrer. Over medium to medium-high heat, warm just enough oil to fully coat the bottom of the pan, about 1 to 3 tablespoons. Toss in a few tester kernels; when they pop, the oil is hot enough for you to add the rest of the popcorn. An ounce of popcorn kernels will make about 1 quart of popped popcorn. Place the lid on the pot, and gently shake (or stir, if using a popcorn pan) until the popping starts to slow to one to two seconds between pops. Remove from heat and top with your favorite toppings.

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