The Absolute Best Popcorn Toppings That Aren't Butter, According To An Obsessive Fan

Here are the most tasty, crowd-pleasing popcorn toppings you should try ASAP.
Popcorn toppings take your snack from good to incredible. Here are the best ones you should be trying.
carlatomules / 500px via Getty Images
Popcorn toppings take your snack from good to incredible. Here are the best ones you should be trying.

I am a popcorn fanatic who has made hundreds of bowls of popcorn. Any time can be popcorn time. I eat it at all hours, and sometimes when I’m feeling particularly lazy, I make it my whole meal.

As any popcorn obsessive will tell you, popcorn is the perfect snack. It’s filling, nutritious and a blank canvas for any kind of flavor you desire. It’s incredible.

Learning how to make popcorn perfectly at home is the first step. No topping can overcome burnt kernels; trust me, I’ve tried. The very best flavor comes from the stovetop method, but I also find the popcorn I’ve made from my single-use microwave popper to be totally acceptable for the days I’m hungry and need a snack, stat.

But what truly makes my popcorn the most-requested snack from friends and family is my toppings. Although melted butter is a classic, I’ve found that there are ways to have tasty popcorn without it.

But before I reveal my best tried-and-true picks, I have a quick note on methodology. I don’t use sweet combinations as I personally prefer savory popcorn. And with every topping listed below, I first add olive oil as soon as the popcorn is done and still hot, so that the topping sticks, and then add my topping of the day and salt to taste.

After excessive trial and error, here are the most crowd-pleasing delicious popcorn toppings you should be trying, according to me, a field researcher who has popped thousands of kernels for my own rigorous testing:

Powdered ranch dressing
If I could only suggest one topping to take your popcorn to the next level, this would be it. Originally meant for salads, Hidden Valley dry ranch mix is my absolute favorite popcorn topping I crave when I want a snack. The powdered buttermilk and citric acid provides the perfect tang that keeps me coming back. It makes my popcorn taste like Cool Ranch Doritos, and that’s the highest praise.
Coconut aminos
I don’t usually use liquid toppings because it makes the popcorn soggy; the one exception I make is for coconut aminos. This is my second-most-used topping I use when I’m out of powdered ranch. The dark-colored liquid is like a sweet soy sauce. It's addictive.
Nutritional yeast
I usually coat my popcorn with nutritional yeast when I want to feel healthy about my snacking. This popular vegan cheese alternative comes packaged as pale yellow flakes. I don't think it tastes exactly like parmesan, but the umami glutamates add a nutty, vaguely cheesy vibe that I enjoy. Along with my “nooch,” olive oil and salt, I’ll add Aleppo pepper flakes or sumac if I want more of tang, or generous amounts of black pepper for a cacio e pepe-style interpretation.
This Japanese seasoning zings up rice and takes popcorn in a salty-sweet direction I love; I find myself reaching for these seaweed sprinkles at least once a week. The sesame seeds add a nice textural contrast to the kernels. When I want to layer in more flavors and lean in to the nuttiness, I mix in a bit of sesame oil, too.
Powdered cheddar cheese
There are excellent powdered cheddar cheeses you can buy (I've been eyeing this one from King Arthur Baking Company). But if you find yourself craving cheddar popcorn, you can recreate it with what you can easily find in a grocery store: the powdered cheese in macaroni and cheese boxes. The powder in Annie's Cheddar Macaroni & Cheese is the one I've been using.

And that's my final lesson: Any spice or flavor packet can be a popcorn topping if you are creative. Za'tar? Taco seasoning? Ramen flavoring? Pop away!
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