Black Listed Foods: Movie Theatre Popcorn

I managed to delete this blog and had to rewrite it from memory. It was originally posted a month or so ago, so this may or may not be what I said before! I hope it’s at least consistent 😉

Thanks to MoviePass when it was actually good, and now AMC Stubs, I have been able to see a ton of movies for a low monthly price.  Unfortunately, I have also been able to eat a ton of movie theatre popcorn, “buttered” of course, during many of those movies.  Common sense told me that movie theatre popcorn was bad for you, I just didn’t want to accept how bad it was for you!  Well, now it’s time (technically, it was time like a month ago, but I somehow deleted this blog, so I am writing it over, because it’s that important) to fully embrace what I was eating.

Popcorn seems like a healthy food at first glance, and when it’s air popped, it’s really not that bad.  I have been known to sneak my air-popped popcorn into the theatre, but that never tasted as good as the movie theatre popcorn to me.  What differentiates movie theatre popcorn from the more healthy air popped version is that it’s popped in oil, not air, it’s salty and yellow colored, and very best part is the buttery topping!  We will approach these one at a time.

AMC publishes nutritional information for their popcorn, which you can find here.  The smallest size listed is actually my favorite, but it’s not offered all of the time.  It’s called the Cameo combo and from time to time it goes on sale for a tiny popcorn and a small drink for $5,  It’s the best value that AMC has, personally sized, but unfortunately it’s only a special and not available all the time.  Here is the nutritional information:

Cameo Popcorn (no butter):  300 calories, 13 grams of fat, 740 grams of sodium

Remember, this thing is tiny… but, it’s really enough for one person.  For comparison, I’ll list a larger size, as that gives an amount.  I’ll pick the refillable tub because we have one of these:

Refillable Popcorn Tub (no butter):  190 fluid ounces, 1090 calories, 49 grams of fat, 2650 grams of sodium

Thank goodness this is for sharing!!!

I purposely didn’t go into detail regarding the fat because it turns out that AMC has two different oils they use for popcorn, canola and coconut.  I asked my local AMC and they use coconut oil.  Honestly, I am torn on these.  Generally I would say that coconut is a fine oil to cook with, but when I say that, I mean a high quality coconut oil.  I have low expectations that movie theatre are using a decent quality oil.

Canola oil is a highly processed oil, but it is lower in saturated fat than the coconut.  The canola popped corn contains 1-4 grams of saturated fat depending on the size.  The coconut oil version has 13-49 grams!  Regardless of your feelings about coconut oil, that’s a lot of saturated fat.

What makes movie theatre popcorn so magical is its salty taste and perfect yellow color.  It turns out that comes from a salt ingredient called Flavacol.  Flavacol only has four ingredients:  salt, artificial flavor, yellow #5 and yellow #6.  The two yellow dyes are mixed to give the perfect yellow popcorn color.  I don’t know exactly what artificial flavor is, other than it’s, well, artificial.  The only “natural” ingredient here is salt.  How much salt?  Well 1 tsp contains 2740mg of sodium! I’m not opposed to sodium in general, but that’s a crazy amount!

Based on the nutritional information, there’s no way an entire teaspoon is in one serving, but this is the same stuff that’s in the shaker for you to add extra.  If it’s added to the popcorn as a topping, it wouldn’t be hard to hit that 1 tsp level.

Now for the good stuff – the buttery topping!!  It’s interesting that AMC doesn’t mention the buttery topping on their nutritional information.  It’s likely because the calories and fat all depend on how much is added and most of that is self-serve now.  It would still be interesting for them to include the nutritional information on a per teaspoon basis.  But, it’s not there.  Interestingly, they report all of their popcorn as “no butter,” which is more true than they realize because even the “buttery topping” does not contain butter!

What does it contain?  Ingredients seem to be partially hydrogenated soybean oil, beta carotene, tertiary butylhydroquinone (TBHQ), polydimethylsiloxane, and buttery flavoring.  So what is all of this stuff?

Earlier I was trying to decide which popcorn oil was better, canola or coconut.  That’s a toss up, assuming the coconut oil used is highly processed and low quality.  In my mind, both options are better than soybean oil, especially the “partially hydrogenated” variety, which to me screams trans fats.  Soybean oil (and canola, as well) are unsaturated oils, which means they have double C=C bonds.  Hydrogenation is when hydrogen is added across those double bonds to make single C-C bonds and each carbon contains an extra hydrogen.  If the hydrogens add on opposite sides, then the new hydrogenated bond is in the trans configuration, or in other words, it’s a trans fat.  Partially hydrogenated just means some of the double bonds became single bonds, but others remain.  It’s a code word for being super processed.  No thanks!

Beta carotene sounds healthy.  I mean, it’s in carrots!  Well, it’s actually the substance that gives carrots their color, so it’s the perfect coloring to add to the “buttery topping” to give that beautiful yellow-orange color that comes out.

TBHQ and the polysiloxane are two chemicals that are added for different purposes.  TBHQ is a preservative that doesn’t have a great reputation (google it, don’t take my word for it).  Dimethylpolysiloxane is an anti-foam agent. Industrially, you will find it’s used as a lubricant, hydraulic fluid, silly putty, and was once used in silicon breast implants, but it’s not used anymore due to safety concerns.  This is one ingredient I know about from work and I cringe when it ends up in my food.  Yuck.

Finally, we have “buttery flavoring”.  After all of that, no surprise that there’s no butter in this, only buttery flavoring.  So this topping, which I once loved and had to drench my popcorn in, is nothing but chemicals.  I didn’t have a ton of luck looking for nutritional information on it, but another blog on the subject stated that is has more calories than real butter.

I don’t know about you guys, but I need to go back to sneaking in my air popped corn into the theatre.  It might not be the best tasting stuff ever, but at least I know what I’m eating.  I think this may explain why I gained weight after joining Movie Pass last year!!

In movie rating terms, I give movie theatre popcorn with no “butter” 2 stars out of 5 (choosing the Cameo size, of course) and movie theatre popcorn with “buttery flavoring” 0 stars out of 5.  I apologize if I’ve ruined the movies for you; it’s definitely different for me now.  Cheaper, though, so that’s a positive takeaway!

3 thoughts on “Black Listed Foods: Movie Theatre Popcorn

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