Consumer Reports: Popcorn – when a good snack goes bad

Sales of ready-to-eat popcorn have skyrocketed, according to market research from Mintel, in part because it is perceived as being a healthy snack. It’s a whole grain, and it’s a good source of antioxidants, compounds that help repair cell damage.

Consumer Reports food experts brought in 15 ready-to-eat popcorn products – some salty, some sweet, some cheesy. First, the salted ones were evaluated for taste and nutrition. A high-quality popcorn has a very light crispness, with no bitterness or burnt notes.

One surprise is Skinny Pop. Although it scores “very good” for taste, despite its name it has more calories and fat than the other four. Smartfood Delight Sea Salt’s large, plump kernels got “very good” marks for taste and “good” marks for nutrition. Best of the bunch is Angie’s Boom Chicka Pop Sea Salt popcorn. Testers give it excellent marks for its toasted-corn flavor and crispy-crunchy texture, and good marks for nutrition.

As for the sweet and cheese-flavored popcorn, CR found that some were not as unhealthful as you’d think. Two cups of Cape Cod’s Salted Caramel have just 10 more calories than its sea-salt version and about 1 more gram of fat. But the same amount of Angie’s Boom Chicka Pop White Cheddar has 50 more calories and three times the sodium than its sea salt version.

Popcorn can be delicious and good for you … if you keep one hand in the bag and one eye on the label, or consider making it yourself, with just a little salt or other seasoning, for a fraction of the cost of a bag that might have a lot of additives.

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