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How is kettle corn different from popcorn?

Both kettle corn and popcorn are types of popped corn, but they have some key differences when it comes to ingredients, preparation method, taste, texture, and nutrition. Understanding the distinctions between these two snacks can help you decide which one to choose for your next movie night or party.


The primary ingredients in both kettle corn and popcorn are corn kernels, oil, and salt. However, the specific amounts used are different:

Kettle Corn

  • Corn kernels – soft kernel white or yellow corn
  • Oil – vegetable oil or coconut oil
  • Sugar – white granulated sugar
  • Salt – fine grain salt

Kettle corn features a sweet touch from added sugar. The sugar coats the kernels and caramelizes as the corn pops.


  • Corn kernels – hard kernel yellow corn
  • Oil – vegetable, coconut, avocado, or olive oil
  • Salt – fine grain salt
  • Butter (optional)

Traditional popcorn omits the sugar and may have melted butter mixed in for additional flavor.

Preparation Methods

The techniques used to pop kettle corn and popcorn also differ:

Kettle Corn

Kettle corn is made by cooking the kernels continuously in oil over medium heat in a large pot or kettle. The pot is shaken to prevent burning. Sugar is added to the pot along with the oil and kernels. The sugar caramelizes and adheres to the kernels as they pop.


Popcorn can be prepared in three main ways:

  • Microwave – kernels are placed in a microwave-safe bag and microwaved until popped.
  • Stovetop – kernels are cooked in a pot with a small amount of oil over high heat, shaking periodically.
  • Air popper – kernels are popped using hot air instead of oil.

Unlike kettle corn, the popcorn kernels are not cooked continuously over medium heat. The fast, high heat causes the kernels to pop quickly.


The taste of kettle corn and popcorn is noticeably different:

Kettle Corn

The addition of sugar gives kettle corn a sweet, caramelized flavor. It has a hint of saltiness from the added salt. Overall, kettle corn provides a sweet and salty taste.


Traditional popcorn has a salty, buttery taste from the oil and salt used. Any added melted butter also lends a rich, savory flavor. Popcorn tends to be salty rather than sweet.

Taste Kettle Corn Popcorn
Sweetness Sweet and caramelized Not sweet
Saltiness Lightly salty Salty
Butteriness Not buttery Buttery (if butter added)


Texture also varies between kettle corn and popcorn:

Kettle Corn

The constant heat and sugar coating creates kernels with a crisp, crunchy exterior and a tender, melt-in-your mouth interior. The popcorn puffs up larger than traditional popcorn.


The quick, high heat of traditional popcorn preparation leads to drier, crunchier, denser popcorn. The kernels end up fluffier on the inside compared to kettle corn.


While both provide fiber, kettle corn and popcorn have some nutritional differences:

Kettle Corn

Nutrient Per 1 Cup
Calories 130
Fat 4g
Carbs 26g
Protein 2g
Fiber 2g

The sugar content increases the carb and calorie count compared to regular popcorn. However, kettle corn still provides fiber, making it a better choice than many other sweet snacks.


Nutrient Per 1 Cup
Calories 55
Fat 2g
Carbs 11g
Protein 2g
Fiber 2g

With its lower calorie, fat, carb, and sugar amount, popcorn can be a healthier snack choice than many alternatives. Go for air popped rather than oils and butter for the fewest calories.

Cost Comparison

When comparing prices, popcorn is typically the more affordable choice:

Snack Average Price
Kettle corn $4-$6 per pound
Popcorn $2-$3 per pound

The added cost for kettle corn comes from the sugar and specialized preparation process. Popcorn is cheaper to make from simple corn kernels.

Occasions for Serving

Here are the best scenarios for enjoying kettle corn versus popcorn:

Kettle Corn

  • Parties – The sweet taste makes it popular for gatherings.
  • Fairs – A favorite fair and carnival food.
  • Snacking – The unique flavor profile makes it a fun snack.


  • Movie theaters – The traditional accompaniment to a movie.
  • Sporting events – An arena and game day staple.
  • Nighttime snack – A lighter option to eat in the evening.


When you want a sweet and salty snack, kettle corn is the way to go. If you’re craving a savory, classic snack for a movie or game, popcorn is the better bet. Both can be enjoyed in moderation as part of a healthy diet. Understanding the differences between popcorn and kettle corn can help you decide which one to whip up or buy for your next occasion.