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What is the Difference Between Kettle Corn and Popcorn?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Kettle corn is a specific type of popcorn. Both kettle corn and plain popcorn are often available in packaged form in stores, and sometimes fresh at farmers' markets, movie theaters, fairs, and snack bars. Many people are familiar with popcorn in general, thanks to its popularity as a snack, and kettle corn is a familiar form of popcorn in some regions of the world, especially the United States.

Popcorn is made from a special variety of corn that has been bred to burst open and puff up when exposed to heat. There are a number of ways to make popcorn, including heating the kernels in an oiled pan or kettle, or popping whole ears over an open fire. When heated without the use of oil, popcorn is a very healthy snack, with a high fiber content. It is of Native American origin and has been made for centuries in the Americas. Along the way, many variations on plain popcorn were developed, with kettle corn being one of the earliest and most popular.

Kettle corn is traditionally made by making popcorn in a large iron kettle that has been oiled. After popping, the popcorn is tossed with salt and sugar to create a distinctive flavor, with the oil attracting the flavorings so that they don't fall off. Kettle corn and popcorn in general can be eaten hot or cold as a snack, with some people making large batches that are allowed to cool before being stored in airtight containers for future use.

Other popcorn flavorings include various cheesy versions, caramel corn, and popcorn dressed with spices ranging from chilies to cinnamon. Popcorn itself has a relatively neutral flavor, so a wide range of flavorings can be used with it, making it a very versatile snack food. Some markets carry a range of popcorn products, ranging from low-fat versions suitable for health-conscious consumers, to calorie-laden kettle and caramel corn. The key distinction between kettle corn and popcorn as a larger grouping is that kettle corn is not a very healthy snack, while popcorn can be, depending on how it is prepared.

Both types of popcorn verifiably emerged in the Americas. A wide variety of other flavored popcorns probably arose somewhere else. Tamari popcorn, for example, is a Japanese invention.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon924900 — On Jan 08, 2014

Popcorn is amazing either other way! --Bacon

By anon169858 — On Apr 23, 2011

I never knew what kettle corn was so I decided to try it. What a surprise! It was so sweet and not to my taste. Also, the amount you get in package is much less than regular pop corn. I'll never buy it again. Give me the old fashioned kind!

By anon141181 — On Jan 09, 2011

I love popcorn but when I bought some kettle corn from my neighbor thinking it was like original popcorn I was in for a huge surprise. The first mouthful, I almost threw it up! Of course it was sweet and that was not what I was expecting to taste. Sweet popcorn. Ewwww. it was awful.

I ended up giving it away but only after I told them about it tasting sweet. Never again will I eat kettle corn which has sugar or sweetener in it. I learned a big lesson.

By closerfan12 — On Oct 20, 2010

Thanks for explaining exactly what kettle corn is -- I always thought it was just some kind of marketing thing, like that unpopped gourmet popcorn that you can buy off of QVC. Now I know better -- very interesting and well written.

Thanks, wisegeek!

By Charlie89 — On Oct 20, 2010

I love popcorn of any kind, kettle or regular, but my little luxury is using coconut oil for popcorn.

Although I usually end up having to buy my coconut popcorn oil online, it is totally worth it to get the taste.

I don't even know how to describe it; it's like kettle corn with a little twist.

I personally use Gold brand coconut popcorn oil, but I know that there's a lot out there, so I'd really advise anybody to try making popcorn with coconut oil, if you can find any in your area.

It's definitely an experience you won't forget -- and it's pretty cheap, to boot!

By TunaLine — On Oct 19, 2010

Oh, I love kettle corn. To me, all the popcorn toppings and seasonings in the world can't compare to good, simple kettle corn.

I think it's a shame that so many people shell out for that gourmet microwave popcorn when you can get an even better taste with some unpopped bulk popcorn, a little oil, and a hot pan.

You can keep your flavored popcorn salts and gourmet popcorns -- I'll stick with good old kettle corn any day.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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