Hey there, folks! Ross here with another grocery store taste test, where I taste-test and rank popular brands' versions of your favorite store-bought foods — and (hopefully) steer you in the direction of some truly delicious ones. This time, it's a food that's near and dear to my heart/stomach, and one that I almost always have stashed in my pantry for a movie night or Netflix binge: microwave popcorn.
Whether you're gearing for a movie marathon in the comfort of your own home, or you — like me — know that popcorn is the ideal snack regardless of the scenario, you'll have a much better popcorn-eating experience when you know the brands to buy and the ones to skip. So for the sake of our collective wallets, I decided to taste-test eight wildly popular brands of microwave popcorn to determine the best one out there. (And as someone who's pretty much bought the same brand his entire life, I can honestly say the results were life-changing to me.)
After conducting some research on the most popular varieties and brands in the American market, I ended up with eight fan favorites across two very specific categories. Up first, we've got the "classics" — the brands that likely come to mind first when you think of microwave popcorn:
For the other category, we've got the "premium" brands — the ones that tend to come at a higher price point, are a bit less common, and/or lean into their "healthier" ingredients through branding:
In my other taste tests that have required some level of preparation — take frozen pizzas, for example — I made it a point to cook each exactly as instructed on the packaging. However: In this specific circumstance, I decided that the best way to ensure even results across the board would be to ditch recommended timing altogether and just listen for that elusive "2–3 seconds between pops" to know that the bags were finished popping, which most brands recommend anyway.
After a solid 15–20 minutes of standing directly in front of my microwave (don't worry, I think I'll survive), I was left with eight bags of freshly popped popcorn. I waited another five minutes or so to allow each bag to cool to room temperature, and then I instructed my partner to bring me tiny bowls of popcorn in a totally random order: one for each brand I popped. God love him.
As I tasted all nine popcorns, I jotted down my initial reactions and assigned two ratings to each: one for texture, and another for flavor. Both are equally important, TBH, so the average of those two scores became the ultimate rating for each brand.
After each and every tiny bowl of popcorn was tested and rated — and by this time, the roof of my mouth was basically torn to smithereens — my partner revealed the order in which I tasted all of the brands. This in turn gave me my definitive ranking of microwave popcorn, which I've included below for your reading pleasure. Not gonna lie: Some of these genuinely surprised me.
8. Act II — Disappointing on a number of levels, Act II was the clear loser here. Though it promises to be the "best value in popcorn," I actually found that it wasn't...so I think your money is better spent elsewhere.
As I noted, the texture certainly wasn't great. After a few bites, it reaaaally started to feel like I was chewing incredibly stale movie theater popcorn — which, if you've ever had that experience, you know it's not a pleasant one. The flavor, however, was the worst part. After trying eight different brands of microwave popcorn, I'd have to say that the various "butter" flavors tended to be all over the place. Some were surprisingly buttery-tasting, and others were definitely lacking. This one was the worst of the bunch, with a strange, chalky aftertaste that, to me, didn't even resemble butter...or any other flavor I've ever tasted.
🍿 OVERALL RATING for ACT II: 3/10
Between the questionable "butter" flavor and chewy, stale-tasting popcorn, I can assure you that I won't be buying Act II popcorn again.
7. Pop Secret — Though "it tastes like my childhood," it didn't taste good...and that, my friends, is the definition of disappointment.
Here's the deal: Like Act II, I can't exactly say that I'd be able to identify the flavor here as butter — or even butter-adjacent — if I didn't know it ahead of time. It wasn't offensive, but to get granular with you, there was a slight bitterness that I just didn't enjoy. That bitterness definitely didn't come from burning it (since, as you can see above, I popped it to perfection 💁♂️), so Pop Secret just didn't impress when it came to flavor. They may advertise a "classic butter taste," but after some careful consideration, I'd have to respectfully disagree.
🍿 OVERALL RATING for POP SECRET: 4/10
While the flavor of Pop Secret was a noticeable (if marginal) improvement upon that of Act II, neither the flavor nor texture was anything special here.
6. Newman's Own — My main critique here is actually really simple: Where's the flavor?
In this circumstance, I didn't automatically equate a lack of flavor with failure. In fact, there was something strangely satisfying about eating popcorn that tasted like it was sprinkled in a bit of salt and not much else, so I ended up giving it the same flavor score as Pop Secret. But to call this one "butter-flavored" and provide no butter flavor?! Blasphemy.
🍿 OVERALL RATING for NEWMAN'S OWN: 4.5/10
The good? Certified organic! The not-so-good? For a "butter-flavored" popcorn, there was hardly any flavor detected here, short of a decent sprinkling of salt.
5. Orville Redenbacher — While I'm not sure how Orville's regular version would stack up, I'd have to admit I was pleasantly surprised by the perceived quality and taste offered by their "natural" line.
If you like your popcorn less buttery and more...IDK, popcorn-y, you may very well love this one. The popcorn itself wasn't a revelation as far as texture is concerned, but it was totally pleasant. Each bite had that nutty, fresh popcorn flavor, and though its butteriness was definitely apparent, it wasn't overwhelming. I wish the butter flavor had come through just a bit more if I'm being perfectly honest, but this one never felt like I was just munching on a pile of fluff with butter-less butter. (I can't say the same for some of the others.)
🍿 OVERALL RATING for ORVILLE REDENBACHER: 6/10
I wouldn't call this brand "flavor-packed" by any means, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. The flavor of the popcorn came through nicely while being just buttery and salty enough, and the unpopped kernels (or lack thereof) only sweetened the deal.
4. Quinn — In terms of texture, this brand's popcorn itself was a true overachiever...however, I can't say the same about the flavorings. (Or the mildly frustrating process of actually making it.)
The microwaveable bags that Quinn popcorn comes in look different from all the rest — they're translucent, and you can see (and roll around) each and every kernel trapped inside. The inside of the bags are filled with popcorn, and popcorn only. No flavorings or oils here, folks. You actually add those in separately, after the plain popcorn is popped, and give it a few good shakes. Sadly, that's where things became less than stellar.
First, you pour the oil into your bag and shake it all up. Then you shake the butter powder over top (and yes, it's actually made from real butter — the only brand of the bunch!) and toss to coat. But here's the biggest problem: The bag isn't big enough to actually move around any of the popped popcorn, so you'll be left with soggy, oily pieces or completely dry ones. There is no in between. As a result, the powdered butter only sticks to the oily popcorn...so it's really just a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure of oily, salty, buttery mess or plain, dry popcorn. However, the texture was absolutely perfect and easily the best I tasted. If Quinn could fix some of the questionable logistics of actually flavoring the popcorn post-pop, they truly might have a winner on their hands.
🍿 OVERALL RATING for QUINN: 6.5/10
While they completely nailed it with the texture, a sloppy DIY "flavoring" process and a questionable butter powder that didn't quite work for me — despite the fact that it was made from real butter — kept this brand from smashing the competition. At $5.49, it's also the most expensive popcorn I tried, and things get even pricier when you consider the fact that you'll only get two bags of popcorn, not three.
3. Whole Foods 365 — With a pronounced nuttiness, fluffy yet crunchy texture, and a pretty unbeatable price tag, this organic option impressed me in more ways than one.
As noted, I didn't exactly find that this one was jam-packed with "butter" flavor. But similar to Orville Redenbacher's contender, I loved that this one really let the popcorn itself shine while still providing just enough buttery, salty goodness on the side. The flavor of the popcorn was exquisite, and its pronounced nuttiness and surprising depth of flavor made munching on it a really enjoyable experience. And while the texture wasn't as mind-blowing as Quinn (or my top pick), I still found it to be crunchy, fluffy, and very fresh-tasting.
🍿 OVERALL RATING for WHOLE FOODS 365: 7.5/10
For an organic option that's genuinely delicious and surprisingly cheap — in this case, it was the cheapest of the bunch — buying Whole Foods 365 microwave popcorn is a really easy choice.
2. SkinnyPop — For those of you in search of a buttery (but not greasy!) popcorn that's packed with flavor...look no further.
SkinnyPop's microwave popcorn truly excels when it comes to flavor, and in the flavor category alone, it actually tied with my number one pick. If you're the kind of person who likes your popcorn bursting with flavor, SkinnyPop was basically made for you. While there's no real butter in their formula — just "natural non-dairy butter flavor" — I still thought they got pretty close to the actual stuff in terms of taste. SkinnyPop certainly packed in the most butter flavor of all the popcorns I tasted, but they didn't do it in a way that feels overly rich or oily. The salt level here was truly a 10/10, too, since it was seasoned just enough to keep you reaching for more (without entirely drying out your mouth in the process).
The texture of SkinnyPop was also on point, though not quite as on point as my number one on this list. I loved how crunchy every single piece of popcorn was, and it somehow struck that perfect balance between dense and fluffy. It wasn't so fluffy that it literally dissolved into nothingness on my tongue, but it also wasn't so dense that it felt effortful to chew. It had a pleasantly crisp texture and strangely pleasant mouthfeel to it, which is...honestly something I never thought I'd say about literal microwave popcorn.
🍿 OVERALL RATING for SKINNYPOP: 8.5/10
If you're looking for a flavor-packed popcorn that won't taste greasy, oily, or overly salty, SkinnyPop should be your go-to. It's fluffy, incredibly crunchy, and just so darn delicious.
1. Black Jewell — This brand calls itself "the better popcorn," and after trying it myself, I emphatically agree. Between the smaller, crunchier pieces of popcorn and a subtle yet mouthwatering butter flavor, it's impossible to pick a singular standout element.
Black Jewell popcorn seems to have been a favorite of popcorn enthusiasts for a while now...yet somehow this was my first time trying it. My first impression: The texture and flavor are both simply unmatched, but I've gotta say the former is what absolutely blew me away. The individual pieces of popcorn were easily the smallest of the bunch, but their smaller, more compact nature actually made them the crunchiest, most satisfying-to-chew variety I tried. The product isn't dense, either, and the fact that the thinner hulls mean you won't have popcorn stuck in your teeth for the next week is just the cherry on top.
While this brand doesn't boast that certified organic label like Whole Foods and Newman's Own both do, I similarly appreciate the company's commitment to our environment — which ranges from growing their popcorn through local farmers, implementing chemical-free microwave bags, and even supporting pollinators (both in practice and through monetary donations). As someone who's always trying to become a more conscious consumer, I'm always personally thrilled when products that taste delicious also end up being "feel-good" choices for other reasons, and Black Jewell is truly a perfect example of this.
🍿 OVERALL RATING for BLACK JEWELL: 9/10
Whether you buy it for the unmatched texture, thinner hulls (that won't get stuck in your teeth), mouthwatering buttery flavor, or the company's transparent commitment to our environment, I can nearly guarantee you'll be thrilled with your purchase.