The secret ingredient that makes movie theater popcorn taste so good

Popping corn's history stretches back 6 to 8 millenia, when people living in southern Mexico started cultivating maize from the grass teosinte, eventually selectively breeding it until it more closely resembled the varieties of corn we see today (via Britannica). It wasn't until the mid-1800s that the food gained popularity among colonizers in North America (via Smithsonian), and today movie theater popcorn, in all its buttery glory, is a traditional favorite. As much as you love it, though, you probably don't know the secret ingredient that makes movie theatre popcorn taste so darn good — and it's not what you think it is. 

This might come as a surprise to those of us who naively thought that the secret ingredient in movie theater popcorn was just a ton of butter. In reality, most major theaters pop their kernels in coconut oil (via The New York Times), adding Flavacol as it pops to imbue the fluffy popped kernels with that signature yellow color and salty taste (via Extra Crispy). 

So, what exactly is Flavacol? Basically, it's a super-fine salt that sticks easily to popcorn, with artificial flavoring, Yellow #5, and Yellow #6 added to give it that buttery color and flavor, all without actually being butter. 

Want to replicate the same texture and flavor of movie theater popcorn in your own home? All you need is popcorn, Flavacol, and refined coconut oil (via Retro Planet) — unrefined oil will give the popcorn a noticeable coconut flavor (via Nutiva).

You probably won't be able to find Flavacol at your local grocery, but it is available online, and just one container should last a good long time. You only need to use a 1/2 tablespoon for every 6 ounces of unpopped corn kernels (via Popcorn Supply Company). Considering that 1 ounce of unpopped kernels makes 4 cups of popcorn, chances are it will be a long time before you run through a standard 35 ounce container of Flavacol (via Popcorn.org). When it comes to this secret ingredient, a little going a long way.