Zero-Waste Popcorn

Popcorn is fabulous, popcorn is amazing – without a cinema trip in the near future I find myself craving cinema popcorn more and more every day. One of the highlights of 2020 was my cinema trip to see Tenet during the small reprieve of restrictions in the summer, being able to get a large diet coke and a large popcorn and ingest so much salt I couldn’t feel my tongue for hours. Plus, I really liked Tenet, as a huge Chris Nolan fan, but the popcorn definitely helped fill out the whole experience.

As a vehicle for getting salt into your body it is par excellence, as a film snack that you can mindlessly shovel into your mouth it is ideal, the crunching sound of popcorn creates the cinema atmosphere right away. Turning to microwave popcorn at home isn’t ideal, because of the waste and expense associated with every packet.

I grew up with a nineties air- popcorn maker in my house – which is a great machine, but it’s not quite the same experience as microwave popcorn. With the air-popper, the popcorn would pop just fine, but the salt poured over it would sink to the bottom of the bowl, not sticking to the popcorn at all. I’d end up with plain popcorn sitting on a bed of undisturbed salt, almost like a presentation display.

I’m delighted to say that I’ve figured out a recipe that works perfectly for me – meaning I can use my air- popcorn machine with zero waste popcorn kernels and still get them nicely coated with salt! The result is actually nicer than microwave popcorn and I no longer have to worry about burning anything!

Home-made Popcorn that’s actually nice:

Popcorn Maker

Kernels: 1/2 cup makes a large bowl, about the same as a bag of microwave popcorn.
(1/2 cup should be around 100g, the microwave popcorn bags have 80 or 90g)

Coconut Oil: 2 teaspoons

Salt: 1-2 teaspoons (or whatever you’re having yourself)

  • While the popcorn maker is heating up and doing its thing:Melt the coconut oil in the microwave – I put it on low heat for like 20 seconds and it should be completely melted and clear. Then mix in the salt to the oil.
  • When the popcorn is finished, pour it into a big bowl and lightly drizzle the oil and salt mixture over it, stir it around after every teaspoon you add to make sure the salt is distributed evenly.

Other options:

Air Fryer: I believe you can make popcorn in an air-fryer similar to the above, but I don’t have one so I won’t vouch for that. Pop it in the air fryer without any oil and do the coconut oil same as above.

On the Stove using oil: I tried this before and it was never pleasant, I haven’t figured out the knack for it that didn’t end up with sodden, unpleasant popcorn at the bottom of the pan. Go ahead if you have figured this one out, I haven’t.

On the Stove without Oil: You can make stovetop popcorn without oil, the problem is stopping the kernels from burning. You NEED a lid for your pan – to keep the heat inside and to keep the popping kernels from flying into your eyes and all over the floor.
Once the pan is heated up, turn the heat down low and throw the kernels in (there shouldn’t be more than one layer, every kernel should be touching the base) Then start shaking it like you’re trying to flip a pancake, but making sure the lid doesn’t come off. If the kernels sit in the one place for too long they burn… This is much more labour intensive than the other methods and more prone to burning.

Microwave: PUT IT IN A BAG. Find a paper bag and put the kernels in there and microwave the same way you’d microwave a bag of microwave-popcorn. Take it out when there’s 2 seconds between pops. Then melt the coconut oil, mix with salt and drizzle over as above. The difference here is that the bag can be reused as there’s no oil involved, the bag can be recycled and composted, there’s no plastic wrapping and the popcorn can be bought cheaper in bulk. See below for why this is better than buying microwave popcorn.

Where to Buy Popcorn Kernels?

Kernels in Bulk:
The Source Bulk Foods – Rathmines
The Good Neighbour – Dundrum
Minimal Waste Grocery – Red Stables Market, Clontarf
Dublin Food Co-op – Kilmainham

Kernels from brands that you can buy in plastic:
Joe & Seph’s
Aldi Magic Pop

Special Mention:
Keoghs Popcorn on the Cob – this is fabulous, this is just so ridiculous and a really innovative way of producing microwave popcorn that I can’t not mention it. It comes in packaging including a plastic wrapping, it is less than a regular bag of microwave popcorn, but it’s not really aimed at zero-waste, it’s the novelty of making popcorn from a cob that’s the unique selling point. This doesn’t have any oil or salt or additives on it, so it has to be flavoured as above.

Why would I not just buy a bag of microwave popcorn like a normal person?


Each bag of microwave popcorn has a Paper bag, coated with plastic in the inside to make it waterproof/oilproof, then that’s wrapped in a plastic bag, then in a box. The box is recyclable but the two bags aren’t because of the plastic. The portioning of the individual bags means you have to make one or nothing – so you can’t make a smaller amount for one person and will inevitably end up making the wrong amount (which is wasteful and awkward)

It’s cheaper

It’s cheaper to buy kernels than microwave popcorn unless you’re comparing the most expensive kernels to the very cheapest microwave brands – the ones that are made with palm oil like Supervalu own brand.

Comparison of popcorn prices: kernels/microwave popcorn/packets

You know what’s going into it :

You can choose organic popcorn and can buy the stuff that’s non-GMO, instead of just taking whatever the shop want to sell you. You can add more or less salt, or try sweet popcorn without committing to an entire packet of the stuff. I like coconut oil but you could use butter if you wanted, but either way: you know what’s going on there – no palm oil! no GMOs! no plastic-y chemical inner lining of the bag that might leech out!

Microwave Popcorn Brands that contains Palm Oil:
Supervalu Own Brand
Spar Own Brand Microwave Popcorn
Centra Microwave Popcorn
Kelkin (Sustainable Palm Oil)

Microwave Popcorn Brands that Don’t contain Palm Oil:
Bunalun Organic

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