What the Heck Is in Movie Theater Popcorn?


Who doesn't love to snuggle down into a dark theater with a huge tub of buttered popcorn to watch a great movie? Your body — that's who! Noam Galai/Getty Images

Hey, movie theater popcorn — you salty siren of the cinema — word's out your kernels are covered in chemicals. With no transparency in labeling, how long have you lured moviegoers to the concession counter only to seduce and deceive us with your faux golden, pseudo buttery deliciousness? Not to mention all the big bucks we've spent on those big bogus buckets of you that we so earnestly munch in the dark. Just because it turns out you're inadvertently vegan and gluten free still doesn't mean you're good for us. So, what the heck are you made of anyway?

Meet movie theater popcorn's three main ingredients: Flavacol, butter flavored topping and, wait for it – buttery flavoring. Yum!

Flavacol is a seasoned powder that goes on the corn before it's popped. It contains only four ingredients: super-fine salt, artificial flavor and two synthetic yellow dyes that give the popcorn its vibrant buttery-ish color. While Flavacol has zero calories and zero fat, carbs, protein, or vitamin and mineral content, it packs a wallop in the sodium department. One teaspoon contains 116 percent of your recommended daily intake of sodium, based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet. So, heads up if you have high blood pressure or want to monitor your sodium consumption for other health reasons.

And that butter flavored topping? It — warning, betrayal alert — doesn't have any butter in it at all.

What it does contain is partially hydrogenated soybean oil (a trans fat that's super bad for you: think heart disease), beta-carotene (a natural pigment that can also be made in a lab), tertiary Butylhydroquinone or TBHQ (a synthetic preservative that keeps the oily golden fluid from becoming rancid as it sits) and polydimethylsiloxane or PDMS (a silicone-based chemical that prevents, ew, foaming) and is actually, not kidding, the main component of Silly Putty.

The final ingredient? The one that gives movie theater popcorn it's yummy, irresistible taste? TA DA: buttery flavoring, a 100 percent non-dairy, mystery chemical that merely mimics the taste of butter.

Another slap in the face is that movie theater butter flavored topping has 20 more calories per tablespoon than real butter. So, if your large bucket of plain popcorn is about 1,000 calories with just the Flavacol seasoning on it and you choose to add a minimum of three tablespoons of buttery topping or as much as six if you opt for a squirt in the middle and a squirt on top, the large bucket you nosh on while watching the latest blockbuster could be more than 2,000 calories.

Popcorn, you're breaking our hearts. It's gonna be hard to enjoy a movie now that we know we never knew you at all.


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