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Healthy Caramel Popcorn

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Almost instant healthy caramel popcorn that is salty and sweet and just plain good.

No corn syrup here!

This is a healthy caramel popcorn recipe without corn syrup. It’s salty, sweet, and just plain good! As the original slogan for Cracker Jacks says:

The more you eat, the more you want.

healthy caramel corn

You can even add roasted peanuts for a healthier version of Cracker Jacks that tastes pretty authentic. (Yes, I bought a box to compare. Cracker Jacks might not be healthy, but they are vegan.) Or stir in dark chocolate chips or broken-up healthy chocolate bars.

I’m not saying it’s as healthy as broccoli and quinoa, or that you should quadruple the recipe and call it lunch. But as far as snacks go, this caramel popcorn is a terrific healthy option: whole-grain, high in fiber, vegan, and completely free of the hydrogenated oils, refined sugar, and trans fats found in so many commercial brands of popcorn. If you use the xylitol option, it’s even good for your teeth. Can’t get much better than that.

With the Calorie Control Council estimating that Americans eat about 3.8 million pounds of popcorn on Super Bowl Sunday, this weekend is a great time to… get popping!

healthy caramel corn    Healthy caramel popcorn

This can be a 5-minute recipe if you use the Microwave Popcorn Trick.

vegan popcorn

Healthy Caramel Popcorn

(or homemade Cracker Jacks)

  • 4 tbsp unpopped popcorn (48g)
  • 1/4 cup xylitol or sucanat (or regular brown sugar or coconut sugar) (54g)
  • 1/4 cup agave or honey (55g) (Molasses might work; I haven’t tried.)
  • scant 1/4 tsp salt
  • optional for a richer caramel flavor: 2 tbsp buttery spread, such as Earth Balance (30g)
  • optional: roasted peanuts, dark chocolate chips, etc.

Pop the kernels, either on the stove or using the Microwave Popcorn Trick.

Then transfer to a large mixing bowl. In a small saucepan, combine the two sweeteners (and the butter spread, if using) and heat on low—stirring occasionally—until the dry sweetener is completely dissolved. Pour this mixture over the popped corn and stir to coat. Much of the sauce will fall to the bottom of the bowl, so be sure to scoop it up and keep stirring for a full 2 minutes. Sprinkle on the salt (don’t forget!) and add chocolate chips, or nuts, or dried fruit if you wish.

View Caramel Popcorn Nutrition Facts

healthy cracker jacks

What’s your favorite: Buttered popcorn or caramel corn?

I’ve always loathed buttered popcorn: the smell, the artificial taste, the way it gets all over the movie theater floor and in your seat… Does anyone even know what’s in that butter syrup with which they drench movie theater popcorn until it turns a very unnatural shade of neon yellow? I guess I could google it, but I would probably rather not know!

Link of the Day:

healthy butterfinger candy

…….Healthy Butterfingers

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Katie is the baker, photographer, and author of the popular blog Chocolate-Covered Katie. Her favorite food is chocolate, and she believes in eating a balanced diet that includes dessert every single day. More about Katie—> 
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  1. Grace says:

    Oh my gosh! Popcorn! I am a popcorn fanatic! I just might have to try this! If I can figure out where to buy a small bag of kernels at a local store lol 😛

    I don’t really know…. I like all kinds of popcorn.. And movie theater popcorn is sooo good though it’s definitely AWFUL for you! 🙁 Caramel and butter.. hmm.. choices, choices. 😛 How about a mix of both? hehe 🙂

    This recipe looks amazing! Do you think you will ever make a butter version? But without actual butter? 🙂

    -Grace 🙂

    P.S. I made your chocolate pumpkin pie brownies, pumpkin cream cheese bars, and crustless pumpkin pie over the weekend… And I ended up making 2-3 batches of each!! LOL! They’re so good! And as for the chocolate pumpkin pie brownies, if you put 1/2 can of pumpkin instead of 1/2 cup (at first I read it wrong! So I made another batch the right way after haha), it’s super good! It’s like fudge and a brownie in one! It’s a fudgie! 🙂

    1. Probably not… I really (really) don’t like buttered popcorn! But maybe I can do other flavors :).

      1. trajayjay says:

        I bet the butter in popcorn is pretty much partially hydrogenated soybean oil. English please? TRANS FAT, plus a little artificial butter flavoring. I try to avoid movie popcorn now that I know what trans fat is. Plus, I always liked home popped popcorn better, movie popcorn with synthetic butter always tasted like vinyl coating to me. Still, CCK you’re right, microwave popcorn can have some pretty nasty stuff in it. Some brands have up to 5 grams of trans fat. That’s pretty icky, and should be fricking illegal. That’s like putting lead or arsenic in our popcorn. Fortunately, some brands are trans fat free, and only contain oil. I though, prefer to pop my own kernels, and I don’t use the paper bag method that you described. I warm a shallow dish of water in the microwave for 1.5 min. I take a glass bowl that doesn’t have a flat rim and put the kernels in it. I cover the bowl with a plate and nuke until all the kernels seem popped. It’s probably unnecessary to nuke the water first and use a bowl without a smooth rim, but i always got better results the way I did it.

        1. Violet says:

          I use a microwave-safe bowl with a plate on top to pop my popcorn kernels too – you don’t have to waste paper bags this way AND your popcorn is already in a bowl ready to eat when you pull it out of the microwave. I always get better results doing it this way compared to the paper bag method.

          1. N.B. Stolz says:

            I have tried to make popcorn by the paper bag method. I have a hard time getting all of the kernals to pop. Do you lay the bag on it’s side in the microwave oven or stand it up on the bottom? I’m anxious to try the caramel popcorn recipe.

            Thanks for your reply

      2. Grace says:

        Wow! I must be the only person that likes butter popcorn on here! LOL 😛 Have you ever tried the popcornopolis (or something like that!) popcorn? It comes in a bag shaped like a cone? Well, have you ever tried the zebra, strawberries and creme, cheddar, and pretty much all other flavors? Do you think you will ever make cheddar (vegan of course since you are a vegan!) or zebra/strawberries’n’creme/cookies’n’creme popcorn? Or kettle corn?!?!?! :O

        Thanks again!
        -Grace 🙂

        P.S. Do you know where I could buy coconut flour? And do you know if it’s expensive or not? Do any of your recipes call for coconut flour?

    2. alloyjane says:

      I think the movie theater stuff is made from coconut oil. And while I don’t love the fake butter junk that goes on top, I love making popcorn using coconut oil mixed with grape seed or peanut oil. It’s delicious. My family will eat any kind if popcorn but they love it when I use coconut oil.

  2. Hannah says:

    This looks delicious! My mother and I love popcorn, in a serious there’s-no-way-we-could-do-a-month-without-it sort of way. I actually had it instead of cake on my last birthday, and my mother is having popcorn and your chocolate brownie cookies (which I’ve made, like, six times in the past two months) instead of cake!

    I like buttered popcorn, but only if I butter it myself at home with real butter. I’m not a movie theater popcorn girl. I haven’t even had it in years. One of my favorite popcorn toppings is chocolate chips!

    By the way, you are an awesome photographer. Do you do all your pictures yourself?

    Thanks for this awesome looking recipe!

    1. You really know how to make my day. Thank you, Hannah :).
      Yeah, I take all the photos. It’s one of my favorite parts of blogging.

      1. Hannah says:

        The photos are awesome!

  3. Alexis says:

    This looks so yummy!

  4. I so agree that fake butter at the theater smells disgusting! So does microwave fake-butter popcorn. Your recipe looks really good and I’m going to adapt it by using whole grain barley malt instead of agave or honey. Great pictures too!

    1. trajayjay says:

      I think movie popcorn tastes like cotton balls covered in vinyl.

  5. Vanessa says:

    Hi Katie, is the nutritional count different if you use real sugar? I assume so, right? I used xylitol in one of the recipes and found I really didn’t like the flavor it added. Do you have any other sugar substitution recommendations? I will look into sucanat…

    1. It will be more, but probably not much. Xylitol is actually not calorie-free. Xylitol is something like 30 cals/tbsp as opposed to 45 for sugar (if I remember correctly).

      Sucanat is awesome. It has an almost-gingerbready flavor.

      1. Grace says:

        Where can I buy xylitol? I’ve looked at all my local stores and I can’t find it! So it’s not calorie free?!? :O What other (healthy!) sugar substitutes are there that are low cal or calorie free and sugar free but can keep volume like sugar does? (I use stevia but when recipes use sugar as bulk, then it doesn’t quite work the same…)

        And what’s sucanat? :O

        -Grace 🙂

  6. Jessica says:

    Oh wow def making these this weekend!!

    I think I am with CCK about the movie theater popcorn…not really my thing lol. I would def go for the caramel corn! 🙂

  7. Olivia says:

    Yay! I never thought I’d see the day where “healthy” and “caramel popcorn” would sit so closely in a sentence!
    Thanks Katie, you rock! Can’t wait to get home tonight, veg out to some Planet Earth and eat popcorn (cause Friday nights are meant to be spent alone…right? Right?? Otherwise I’d have to share my delicious vegan food! psh) 🙂

  8. Oh my how I adore popcorn. I am always guilty of bringing my own to the theater…shhh…

  9. Thanks for the recipe, though now I’m waiting for the caramel popcorncorn brownie you joked about on Wednesday… I’m a popcorn fanatic, especially caramel corn with a drizzle of chocolate and peanuts. YUM!

    1. Haha. I have to second the caramel popcorn brownie movement. This looks amazing, Katie!

      P.S. Kelly, I love your name. 😉

      1. Grace says:

        Omg! Kelly @ Foodie Fiasco! You’re here too! Love your blog also!! Your blog and Katie’s blog are literally, no joke, my life! haha 😛

        -Grace 🙂

        P.S. Kelly @ Hidden Fruits and Veggies, I LOVEEEEEE popcorn too!!! 🙂 That caramel popcorn brownie sound yummilicious!

  10. Mandie says:

    I too have always detested the buttery movie-style popcorn – it always stuck to the roof of my mouth & left a weird taste and feel. Yuck!

    My FAVORITE is Kettle Corn – but Caramel is great too – but the kinds of Caramel Corn I have tried are SO unhealthy!
    I like Kettle Corn best because is isn’t too sweet, nor too salty – just right 😉

    I hope to try this recipe soon!

  11. Oh this looks good! I’m definitely more of a caramel popcorn fan myself. I have a big bag of unpopped kernels at home that would be perfect to use for this recipe!

  12. I looove caramel corn! Having a lighter version is awesome, thanks!

  13. This. Is. Fantastic. Caramel corn is one of my favorite treats but rarely get it because it’s so unhealthy with all that sugar!

  14. Rachel says:

    Hiya Katie, here’s a wee message of appreciation from Scotland! Felt as if today would be a good opportunity to finally leave a comment, as popcorn has got to be one of my favourite snacks in the world! Can’t believe it’s taken me ages to do this, but this is to say: thanks so much for your lovely blog! I’ve been a veggie since I was 15, and am now vegan most of the time due to a uni student budget. As a medical student, avid runner and veggie–but with a wicked sweet tooth–this has been a godsend. I really appreciate the fact that you often include substitutions; I love that I can still make loads of your recipes without needing to run out and buy posh ingredients!

    So I just wanted to say thanks so much for your lovely blog and recipe ideas; it makes my day so much sweeter (couldn’t resist, sorry!)

    Cheers from Auld Reekie. xx

    1. Thanks, Rachel! I think I’m probably sensitive to the substitution thing because I lived out of the US too… I know how frustrating it can be when you go to make a recipe and can’t find any of the ingredients where you live! 😕

  15. I need to get some of that sweetener 🙂

  16. Anna says:

    I love caramel corn. I wonder if my mom’s trick for perfectly coated caramel corn will work for this…you put the popped, de-kernaled corn in a paper bag, drizzle the sauce on, close the bag up tight and get to shaking. It prevents you from breaking up the popped corn with a spoon and to clean up you just throw the bag out.

    1. Your mom is brilliant! I am going to try her idea next time I make popcorn :).

  17. Alyssa says:

    We usually use kettlecorn and cheddar seasoning together. The best of both worlds!

  18. Sarah says:

    oooooh this looks fantastic. i used to work at a theater and couldn’t believe how much people were like OBSESSED with the fake butter- which is legitimately oil, salt, and butter flavor. gross. it got EVERYWHERE too, left this nasty residue and smell on your hands. def not something i wanna put it in my body!
    this popcorn on the other hand…yes please.

  19. I do love buttered popcorn, but I switch it up pretty often. Looking forward to trying this!

  20. kinsey says:

    Yay! I recently found a “healthified” caramel corn but it looked too high maintenance and had 1 too many steps. I will have to pop some of this up soon! P.s I am on the hunt for a healthy, low calorie, whole grain pound cake. Might you have a link for one or may I see a future recipe for this on your blog? 🙂 🙂 I love anything with “sneaky ingredients” and was thinking a recipe that uses beans to possibly make it more dense would be a good addition!

    1. I don’t have one. I can put it on my long list of things to try!

    2. trajayjay says:

      Poundcake has 5 main ingredients: butter, sugar, milk, flour, and eggs. I suppose that you could sub butter for coconut oil, sugar for stevia or xylitol, milk for almond milk, flour for whole wheat pastry flour, and “flax eggs” for eggs. I don’t think this would be low calorie, but if you keep portions small, then the result won’t have many calories, I think nutrition is more important than caloric content anyways.

      1. kinsey says:

        I definitely agree with you on the calorie/nutrition part. For most of my clients though I try to teach them how to eat high nutrient foods that naturally have little calories. Therefore, it would be great if I could show them how to have their cake, and eat it too!

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