20 Best Popcorn Flavors Ranked

Popcorn lovers, this one's for you! If you love digging into a fresh bowl of popcorn, you're not alone. Americans eat nearly 13 billion quarts of popcorn each year, according to AgHires.

Humans have been eating popcorn for at least 1,000 years, explains History. The Iroquois confederation of American Indian tribes was reported to have popped kernels in pottery jars. The snack's popularity spread as the country was colonized. Charles Cretor's popping machine turned it from an occasional treat to a commercially available snack. Popcorn has managed to remain an undeniably popular snack since then.

When it comes to flavor, this is one snack that has a virtually endless number of variations. From sweet to spicy, simple to extravagant, there's a type of popcorn for every palate. But let's get real — some popcorn flavors are superior to others. To help you make sense of it all, we've ranked 20 popular popcorn flavors from worst to best.

20. Cotton candy

Cotton candy has a historic pedigree. It was once made by hand and enjoyed as spun sugar in 15th-century Europe, according to National Geographic. It skyrocketed in popularity at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition, where a cotton candy machine showed everyone just how easy it was to enjoy the whimsical treat. For fans of ultra-sweet, you're in luck: cotton candy popcorn is a thing. But just because it exists doesn't mean it's a flavor we stand behind.

We will give a pass to kids here, because one of the best things about childhood is the instant love of anything with a bright color palette.  We'll also let carnival enthusiasts slide, as it is a nostalgic mashup of two favorite carnival treats. As for any other redeeming qualities, we just can't seem to think of any that would put this tooth-achingly sweet and dye-filled concoction anywhere other than last place.

19. Strawberries and cream

The combination of strawberries and cream dates back to Cardinal Wolsey, who was a member of King Henry VIII's court, according to Love Food. Wolsey needed a dessert that would come together quickly and require minimal cooking, so he (or one of his chefs) threw together the dish, which instantly became a hit.

When done right, strawberries and cream-flavored popcorn is reminiscent of the sugary berry-flavored cereals so popular in the '90s. That's where all positive remarks end. Unless you're working with high-quality ingredients, strawberry flavoring is bound to taste sickly sweet and artificial. Because popcorn has so much potential, it's a shame to see perfectly good popcorn become tainted with a terrible flavor.

Real strawberries and cream is a refreshing balance of acidic berries and rich cream. But the "cream" in some strawberries and cream popcorn is often a generous drizzle of vanilla icing, which just adds too much sugar to the mix.

18. S'mores

National Geographic traced the history of s'mores back to 1927, when the Girl Scouts released the first official recipe for the sweet, simple summertime snack. But whoever decided to combine popcorn with s'mores flavors must not be fans of the "less is more" approach. It's a nice flavor combination in theory. But when you toss popcorn with graham cracker pieces, marshmallows, and chocolate together, you lose some of what makes popcorn so great. Popcorn should really be loads of crunch, but add in too many extras and it quickly goes from light and crunchy to chewing on rocks.

Normally we're fans of anything s'mores. Something about that combination of melted chocolate, toasty marshmallow, and crunchy graham crackers invokes wonderful memories. But popcorn should not be treated as only the vehicle, but the flavor as well. There aren't many snacks that can top s'mores, and the same goes for popcorn. But these two never should have crossed paths.

17. Cookies and cream

We hate to be the bearers of bad news, but cookies and popcorn are two snacks that also don't need to be mixed. Now, don't get us wrong here. Cookies and cream is a perfectly delicious flavor, depending on the dessert format. It can be a candy bar, it can be an ice cream, and it can even be a perfectly good cheesecake flavor. But what it can't be is a reasonable flavor of popcorn.

Cookies and cream is a flavor that most everyone loves but doesn't need to shout about from the rooftops. So why doesn't it work with popcorn? It sort of takes away the simplicity that popcorn is known for. Instead of popping fluffy kernels into your mouth, cookies and cream weighs everything down. There's too much fuss and overall it's too complicated of a flavor. You're better off just eating a cookie and cream candy bar.

16. Turtle

Go big or go home may very well be the motto for urtle-flavored popcorn. Pecans, caramel, and chocolate are the only ingredients in this candy. Sweet and salty is a hit for most snack lovers, but what makes a turtle candy so great is its ratio of ingredients, which include clusters of pecans held together with caramel and covered in a chocolate shell. The nuts help to break up the flavors, preventing the candy from becoming overly sweet.

George DeMet, a Chicago confectioner, created turtles in 1916, according to DeMet's Turtles. It's been a classic ever since, but how does it translate to popcorn form? Unfortunately, it's pretty boring. We give turtles popcorn some bonus points because it's delicious, but it's the nuts that are a problem. They're heavier than the popcorn, so they end up falling to the bottom of the container and throwing off the all-important ratio of ingredients. We won't count turtels-flavored popcorn out, but some slight tweaks need be made before it can rank any higher.

15. Chocolate caramel

Chocolate and caramel seem to be natural toppings for popcorn. But is it truly necessary or has this pairing gone overboard on the sugar? That depends on your sweet tooth, but we think there should be some nuance with sweets. While the popcorn is a neutral base and helps to temper this snack from being a sugar bomb, there's not enough complexity for this flavor to rank any higher.

It's a slightly different story when you add a bit of salt. That helps to deepen the intensity and make the flavors meld a bit more. It also takes them from just one note to more interesting for the palate. Stephanie Zonis writes that it's almost impossible to see chocolate and caramel without salt nowadays. This is, good news, especially if you're looking to make your own chocolate caramel mix at home: just add salt! But overall, this popcorn flavor is hardly thrilling.

14. Nacho cheese

It's hard to go wrong with cheese-flavored anything, and popcorn is no exception. Now add a little spice and you have what are effectively Doritos in popcorn form. It sounds intriguing but does it work? Unfortunately, many nacho cheese popcorns on the market don't have a pure nacho taste. We'd expect some garlic, some spice, and cheese. But the proper ratios are hard to pull off, making most nacho cheese popcorn varieties a sad disappointment.

The New York Times explains that consumers are drawn to brightly-colored food, explaining some of the appeal of this eye-catching snack. Meanwhile, many can't resist the salt and fat that are characteristic of this flavor. But nacho cheese popcorn just hasn't been able to win us over like crunchy corn chips have. We'll keep our eye out for new versions to taste, but for now, nacho cheese popcorn will stay towards the bottom of our list as a flavor you can easily skip.

13. White and milk chocolate drizzle

We're going to draw the line with just drizzling pure chocolate over popcorn. Yes, it's tasty but it detracts from popcorn's original crunch and flavor. Zebra popcorn (white chocolate and milk chocolate drizzle) is just too far in the wrong direction for us to stand behind.

There's a subtlety to popcorn that we just love, with a light crunch and gentle flavor that make it the perfect snack. So why ruin that by dumping not one, but two kinds of chocolate over it? Goodbye crunch! We're not haters of white and milk chocolate drizzle; we just don't want it over popcorn. We'd be more inclined to eat it with peanut butter, which the Cleveland Clinic suggests is actually a way to keep popcorn healthy. Even if nutrition is no concern, there are other ways to douse your popcorn in sugar that are much more fulfilling than white and milk chocolate!

12. Honey butter

Honey butter is one of those flavors that screams cozy cottage kitchen. Whether you live in a cottage or not, you may have the strong urge to spread honey-sweetened butter on everything from biscuits to oatmeal. Surprisingly, it's actually not a bad flavor to eat on popcorn. But this is a prime example of how texture can greatly impact the enjoyment of food, not to mention a cautionary tale for popcorn producers.

The Globe and Mail reports that once upon a time, honey was added to butter for preservation purposes. But on popcorn, it's just okay. That's actually rather sad because as a condiment it's remarkable. But what makes honey butter so good to spread on things is its moisture. And that's the exact opposite of what you want in popcorn. So the flavor is there but without honey butter's key mouth-watering characteristics, honey butter popcorn is nothing to write home about.

11. Cinnamon sugar

Cinnamon sugar is a flavor that has meant so much to so many people over the years. Whether you've eaten cinnamon sugar on toast or just really adore Cinnamon Toast Crunch, there's a strong chance that this flavor has a spot in your heart. So why should the popcorn flavor be any different? Well, the flavor is there but something about the texture just doesn't sit right with us. Cinnamon sugar needs extremes, like the gentle crisp of French toast or the crunch of cereal. Yet when you sprinkle it onto popcorn, with its in-between crunch, it falls flat. It's not horrible, but it's just not nearly as exciting as it sounds.

Cinnamon toast has been enjoyed as a snack since the 1600s, according to McCormick. We respect the history of this flavor and have made the executive decision to suggest it works well on everything except popcorn!

10. Chocolate peanut butter

If you haven't yet been converted into a chocolate peanut butter lover, consider chocolate peanut butter popcorn. This variety consists of fluffy pieces of popcorn that are drizzled in both chocolate and peanut butter. The popcorn is also often given a caramel coating for extra flavor and texture. Even if it's just those first two ingredients, the combo of salt and sweet flavor is delectable.

All told, there's no denying that sweet and salty is one of the best flavor combinations out there for popcorn. But it isn't all fun and games. Peanut butter and chocolate can be a sugar overload, especially when it's loaded on top of a sweet caramel coating. And although it tastes delicious enough, there are plenty of other vehicles for this flavor that truly help the taste to reach the highest heights. We have to be honest and admit that popcorn is rarely the place for peanut butter and chocolate to shine.

9. Sea salt

When digging into a bowl of sea salt popcorn, there's only one thing that matters. The quality of the popcorn needs to be top-notch and it needs to be air-popped so you can really enjoy popcorn's signature fluffiness and crunch! Sure, sea salt is not the most exciting flavor of popcorn out there, but it is one of the simplest and most delicious.

We ranked sea salt in the top half of our list because it's a flavor that will please everyone. Got an array of guests who fuss over every snack? Sea salt popcorn it is! Maybe you have a kid's party where you need to feed a range of ages and perhaps a few picky eaters. Sea salt popcorn can save the day yet again. The gently savory and typically crowd-pleasing flavor of standard popcorn is given just the right boost by a sprinkling of flaky sea salt.

8. Kettle corn

If you've been to a carnival before, chances are you've seen great, big bags of kettle corn being scooped up and doled out to eager customers. Kettle corn is the kind of nostalgic, downright timeless snack that you just want to eat while doing something fun like riding a carnival ride and trying to win a large, useless stuffed animal. Kettle corn, with its distinct blend of sweet and salty flavors, has been a staple since the 18th century, when European farmers would pop the kernels in iron kettles, adding lard and sugar to the mix (via Popcorn for the People).

Kettle corn wins bonus points for its flexibility, given that you can adjust the salt and sugar-based on your liking to make it bold or keep it more subdued. However you prefer your kettle corn, it's widely available and has a flavor that's surprisingly interesting for its simplicity.

7. Cheddar cheese

What if we told you there was an easy way to make your very own cheese powder from scratch? One of the first recipes most people would make with the stuff would probably be macaroni and cheese, but the next? Without a doubt, it would be cheese popcorn! That's because there's something wonderfully rich and delicious about cheddar cheese popcorn. It's nostalgic, messy, and, when done right, it's delightfully messy! There aren't a lot of popcorn flavors that can top cheese popcorn, with its bright orange hue and distinct salty flavor.

You can certainly try making your own cheese powder at home, if you're feeling extra adventurous in the kitchen. Yet remember that cheddar cheese popcorn certainly isn't hard to find, if you find yourself with a craving. But if you do try to make this at home, remember: the oranger, cheesier, and messer your popcorn, the better!

6. Truffle

No matter how much die-hard foodies try to convince us otherwise when it comes to truffle oil (looking at you, Gordon Ramsay), we think that truffle popcorn is downright delicious. We're not alone, either. As The English Truffle Company puts it, truffles work best with simple foods, which helps to explain why truffles and popcorn are a match made in heaven.

So what's so good about truffle popcorn? Well, we have to reiterate that we think truffle works well on a whole lot of things, so long as it's doled out with a careful hand. Popcorn is no exception. It's already salty and savory on its own and, with the addition of a bit of truffle oil, it's also bursting with umami flavor. That easily makes it the perfect cool kid snack to serve at your next board game night. If you're a fan of savory snacks, then truffle popcorn might just creep into your roster of all-time favorites.

5. Plain

As unexciting as this sounds, we have to give plain popcorn a shoutout on this list. None of the other flavors would be here without the unsalted, unbuttered, unsweetened snack that is plain popcorn. Consider the harsh world where there would be no s'mores popcorn, no honey butter, and no salty-sweet kettle corn. Rough, right? If you're into a snack that's got crunch and not much else, look no further than plain popcorn. It is the originator of it all.

You should also know that plain popcorn is one of the healthiest snacks out there. According to the American Heart Association, air-popped popcorn is a whole grain, which means it may help ward off diabetes and heart disease, among other ailments. It's also got a historic pedigree you may want to contemplate while chowing down. According to 16th-century records, Mesoamericans were already using popcorn in food-based rituals and decoration, explains Popcorn.org. This makes popcorn one of the oldest snack foods that we still enjoy today. Perhaps the coolest thing about eating plain popcorn is that you can taste it just as the ancients may have done thousands of years ago.

4. Cheese and caramel

Popcorn is one of those anything-goes snacks. So, it's no surprise that a mashup flavor like cheddar and caramel popcorn is one of the best things you'll ever eat. Who would think that caramel would create beautiful harmony with salty cheddar? Yet, here we are, and we're definitely not mad about it.

The flavor combination is popular year-round but is especially ubiquitous during the holiday season, when it's packed into festive tins . It debuted in 1949 Chicago, when the Garrett family hosted a family caramel-corn competition and created a fateful caramel corn recipe, as per TimeOut. They then created a cheddar cheese popcorn that became popular. After customers began buying one bag of each flavor and mixing the two together, the Garretts released the eponymous Garrett Mix to widespread acclaim. Since 1977, the caramel and cheddar popcorn blend has been the leading flavor for the brand.

3. Caramel

Without a doubt, the third-best flavor of popcorn goes to caramel corn. Is there anyone on the planet who doesn't have an appreciation for the perfect mix of crunch, sweet, and salt? There's just something about how perfectly simple caramel corn is. It's also a food for all occasions. Cozy autumn day sitting around a campfire? Summer evenings after a day of day drinking? Caramel corn fits the bill.

Caramel corn has been a favorite since the 1870s when German brothers Frederick and Louis came to the United States. According to Popcorn for the People, the brothers put down roots in Chicago, where they created a popcorn shop and sold interesting combinations of popcorn. They knew they were on to something when their peanut and molasses popcorn became a customer favorite. This recipe would eventually turn into Cracker Jack and has paved the way for all variants of caramel corn. Caramel corn is just popcorn drizzled with a caramel mixture. There's really not much to it, but when those sweet and crunch components meld, it's a beautiful thing!

2. White cheddar

Consider this a white cheddar fan club. Not only is it the perfect flavor for cheese puffs and Goldfish crackers, but it is a definitive popcorn flavor. It's salty and subtle with just the right hint of cheese. White cheddar is a flavor offered by most brands, but who kicked off the white cheddar popcorn craze?

In 1989, Annie Withey founded the popcorn when trying to create a quick filler item to show off the resealable bags her husband was trying to sell, according to the New York Times. The popcorn proved to be far more popular than the bags, leading to the creation of none other than Smartfood popcorn, a giant in the white cheddar popcorn game. Annie clearly knows a thing or two about what consumers want, because she's also behind the Annie's Homegrown brand, reports SF Gate. White cheddar, with its subtle flavor that isn't nearly as overpowering as the orange variety, has eased its way into our hearts.

1. Movie theater butter

This is a pretty anticipated flavor, we're sure, but probably not because butter is the most exciting or shocking taste you've ever encountered. Instead, we posit that butter-flavored popcorn is simply the best. That's right — not much can top the fantastic simplicity of warm, crunchy popcorn drizzled with butter (well, butter flavor).

The relationship between popcorn and the movies began to grow during the Great Depression as a trick employed by movie theaters to keep moviegoers coming back, explains LAist. Butter was introduced to popcorn pre-movie theaters, first apparently debuting in 1893 at the World's Colombian Exposition (via Popcorn.org). 

You can hate on buttered popcorn all you want, but you can't deny that it was the flavor that cemented popcorn as a mainstay in the modern snacking world. Whether you're a buttered-popcorn purist or prefer a little more pizazz, we think that buttered popcorn is unmatched for flavor and nostalgia.