Movie nights call for some munchie snacks. Popcorn is always a simple, healthy go-to but might get boring after a while. Switch things up a bit and serve some healthy homemade caramel popcorn for your next movie night!
When I was growing up, Sunday evenings were popcorn and grape juice night. We would sit around reading or playing games eating popcorn and drinking juice. It was the only time we were allowed to have food in the living room, too!
The week between Christmas and New Year’s was extra special because we would rent a TV and a VCR and watch movies we had checked out from the library. [We were Mennonite so, yes, we had to rent all those things!]
That week we got popcorn every night we watched a movie! But no grape juice. Mom canned our grape juice from our vine out back so we had to ration the sweet drink.
But mom would make those grape-juice-less nights special by switching up the popcorn!
Instead of the usual salt and butter, she would make caramel or peanut butter popcorn for us. Once in a while she would make Jello popcorn for us, too, but I’m not sure how you would make that without actually using Jello.
She would also switch up the flavors by using seasoned salt or other spices.
All this to say, we never got tired of popcorn!
When I learned to Make Caramel Corn without Corn Syrup
Growing up, caramel corn was one of the few things that mom would use corn syrup in. The ingredient hadn’t been demonized yet. And really, we weren’t “health conscious” as you would call it at the time. We just grew, preserved and ate as much of our own food out of necessity…which happened to be healthy.
So when I left home, I didn’t know there was another way to make caramel corn.
One summer I was working in Colorado on a beef ranch. The manager and his family were more health conscious.
On Sunday evenings we would usually gather at their house and the manager’s wife would make this to-die-for caramel corn for us.
With maple syrup.
I asked for the recipe but of course she had none. She just dumped, eye-balled and boiled til just about right.
So I tweaked and experimented (thankfully the mistakes were always delicious to eat!) until I got the right consistency for caramel corn.
Healthy Homemade Caramel Popcorn 3 Ways
There really aren’t three different recipes for caramel popcorn. I just offer three different sweeteners you can choose from for making it.
All three sweeteners have similar consistencies and switch up nicely in this recipe.
In one of my old Mennonite cookbooks I found my grandma’s recipe for a molasses version of caramel corn. With no measurements. That’s how her cooking was. Just guess and eye-ball. But so delicious.
Healthy Homemade Caramel Popcorn
First you will need about 16 cups of popped corn. I have an air popper that I like to use. You can learn how to make stovetop popcorn here with just a kettle and a burner.
Put your popped corn in a huge bowl (bigger than what you think you’ll need) for easy stirring. I like to sift out what unpeopled kernels I can. To do this I gently shake or toss the popped corn in the bowl. Then I skim off the top popcorn and put it into another bowl. Then I shake some more. Skim and shake. Until you get to the bottom and you can throw out the un-popped kernels.
In a saucepan, place one cup of maple syrup, honey or molasses, 1/2 a cup of butter and a pinch of sea salt. I use salted butter so there is already some salt in there.
After four minutes of boiling (molasses version you don’t have to boil as long), remove the pan from the heat and add 1/2 a teaspoon of baking soda and one teaspoon of vanilla (if desired). I only add vanilla to the honey version because maple syrup and molasses have such strong flavor on their own. Don’t be alarmed: it will foam up when you add the soda but just keep stirring till it calms down.
If you are making popcorn balls, wait until it has cooled a bit, butter your hands and then pack it into balls.
If you are enjoying the popcorn right away, dig in!
Package in an airtight container after baking.
Make it your own by tossing in a few nuts, seeds, chocolate chips or other goodies!
Grab the Recipe
- 20 cups popped popcorn
- 1 cup maple syrup, honey or molasses
- 1/2 cup butter
- pinch sea salt
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp vanilla (I only add in the honey version)
1. After you have popped the popcorn, shake and transfer to another bowl to sift out the unpeopled kernels.
2. In a saucepan combine sweetener, butter and sea salt. Bring to a low boil and boil for 4 minutes.
3. Remove from the heat and add baking soda and vanilla. It will foam a bit but just stir it down.
4. Pour the caramel sauce over the popcorn and stir with a long handled spoon. Continue stirring until the popcorn is evenly coated.
It will be sticky at this point but delicious to eat right away. You can also shape it into balls with buttered hands before it cools too much.
5. If you are storing the popcorn for a later time, lay it out on baking sheets and bake for 45-60 minutes in a 225 degree oven stirring every 15 minutes. Let cool before packaging.