Popcorn is delicious and decidedly American. It can be decadent or simple depending upon how it’s dressed. While butter and salt are old standbys, there are many other possibilities.
For starters, popcorn popped in oil doesn’t really need butter at all. A purist approach is to apply only freshly ground flakes of sea salt or exotic salt. Try pink Himalayan, which has a hint of sweetness, or perhaps French gray salt, which is sharply flavored. Indian black salt is slightly sulfuric.
Those who enjoy heat along with saltiness will appreciate pepper sauces on their popcorn. Tabasco provides full flavor but is light enough that it won’t sog down a bowl of fluffy popcorn, provided that it isn’t applied too liberally. Toss the popcorn to distribute flavor. Experiment with other pepper sauces as well. Another spicy seasoning that tastes great on popcorn is chili powder; it generally does not contain salt, so some salt may be needed as well. Curry powder is an excellent flavoring for popcorn. Choose hot or mild curry powder and add a little bit of salt, too.
Grated parmesan cheese is another pleasing topping, and it marries well with Italian seasoning blends and/or garlic powder. Add salt to taste as well to bring out the best in these toppings. Nutritional yeast flakes offer a cheesy-nutty touch and can be purchased in bulk at whole or natural food stores. Oregano, thyme and cumin are delicious alone or in combination on popcorn. Some salt is needed to accentuate their flavors as well.
For something sweet, melt some caramels with a little water in a saucepan. Butter your hands and toss freshly popped popcorn with your hands, distributing a little butter throughout the popcorn. Drizzle in the caramel a little at a time, tossing the popcorn as you go. Be careful not to burn your hands and don’t overdo the caramel. Add a bit of salt and enjoy.
Tossing popcorn with buttered hands is an excellent way to butter popcorn without going overboard while adding a hint of flavor and providing something to which seasoning can stick. An alternative would be to oil the hands with olive oil to achieve the same goal. Chili oil could be used as well, but sparingly.
These are just starter ideas; consider the endless possibilities and experiment. Popcorn is rarely boring, and it tastes best when it isn’t overloaded with fake flavorings and grease. The key is to choose good-quality herbs, spices and other flavorings and to use them in quantities that don’t obscure popcorn’s natural flavor but accentuate it.