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Healthy Caramel Popcorn

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

3/5 (1)

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Published on February 1, 2013

Meet Katie

Chocolate Covered Katie is one of the top 25 food websites in America, and Katie has been 
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ABC's 5 O’Clock News. Her favorite food is chocolate, and she believes in eating dessert every single day.

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  1. Corina says

    I have an air popper where you just put the kernels in and the hit air pops it. I agree that the movie popcorn is blah:P But if I do it in the air popper, then you can melt your own butter or other sauce and add it to the popcorn. Then its OK.And yum! I love caramel corn, but its always really unhealthy . I love this blog!!!!!!!!:D

  2. Christine Selby says

    I’m a self-proclaimed caramel corn snob. I’m not a vegetarian of any variety and I’m not interested in making my deserts “healthy” – I just eat the “high test” ones sparingly; however, this recipe is quite good. I used honey, brown sugar and real butter. I stumbled upon it looking for a recipe for caramel corn I could make on the road. Still couldn’t make this one, but I was intrigued. So when I finally returned home I tried it. I like my tried and true recipe better, but this is quite good and will remain in my recipe files. Thanks!!

  3. Carol says

    I just finished making this and realized that I need to put it into the oven to crisp up and dry out. Did you have to do that to yours? Its delicious but messy & wet.

  4. Liki says

    Just made this tonight as a test run for a batch I need to make for a work “Sweet Exchange”. It is really good and tasty. I used white popcorn kernels and used an air popcorn popper to make the popcorn. I purchased sucanat from Whole Foods for $4.99 for 1 pound. I made the butter version using real butter.

    I did some research on glycemic levels and minerals/vitamins on the different cane sugars and decided to also try using rapadura aka panela because it is the healthiest of the sugar cane sugars. I am not sure where I am going to find this locally.

  5. Cheryl says

    This may seem like an odd idea, but I was wondering it the “melted banana trick” might possible work for this recipe, instead of the agave/ honey. Although this recipe is much healthier than others, I would like to cut down on added sugars as much as possible and I thought this might possibly work. I’m okay with my popcorn tasting slightly like banana 😀

  6. Dina Dee says

    Hi! I tried this, but had to add cocoa powder to the pan when melting the ingredients together. It was YUM! I used coconut oil instead of the Earth balance butter stuff, and sprinkled Himalayan pink salt on it at the end. I toasted up some almonds and put them in with the popcorn so they got some coating, too. Your website is a resource I keep coming back to, thanks, Katie!

  7. april says

    i really really like popcorn. I use it to curb munches. Most often I stove pop mine with either olive oil or coconut oil. I go with one of three options for flavoring: 1 – salted, 2 – spicy (cayenne pepper, garlic salt, and hot sauce. sometimes hot sauce mixed with a butter to make a buffalo wing flavor), or 3-sweet. i throw in a packet of trivia with the oil before adding corn and make a kettle corn out of it. tastes great with coconut oil. often sprinkle with a little salt and cinnamon. tonight i really really want chocolate. chocolate anything. so i was seeing if i could find a healthy sweet chocolate popcorn recipe. but i might do this one instead!

  8. Angelica says

    Here’s what I found out about the Cineplex popcorn from the website. I got it from a file called ” Nutrition & Allergen Guide”…

    Ingredients in Cineplex popcorn:
    Soybean Oil, Water, Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Salt, Soy Protein, Soy Lecithin, Potassium Sorbate, Mono & Diglycerides, Artificial Flavour, Vitamin A Palmitate, Vitamin D3

    A really good recipe! I just finished making it. I have a question though… When I was mixing the caramel sauce together on low heat, the sugar never really dissolved. I kept tasting it and I would always feel the graininess of the ( brown ) sugar. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t mind that at all, but I was stirring it for a good 20-30 min and it still turned out grainy. I finally stopped because I didn’t want the honey to burn ( that’s happened before ). Is this normal? Otherwise this is SOOO delicious! Oh my gosh!

    • Unofficial CCK Helper says

      Hmm it should definitely dissolve unless the sugar was old? Maybe try white sugar? I’ve never had a problem with sugar not dissolving.

  9. Julie says

    Hi Katie,
    I am very excited to discover your site & look forward to trying out more of your recipes! When I searched for a healthy caramel corn recipe, I didn’t really think I would find one! I made the recipe with the spread and with peanuts. I have made the old-fashioned kind many times. I was a little disappointed that the popcorn didn’t get that hard coating on the outside, instead it was soggy and limp. I cooked the sauce until it boiled, then took it off the heat. I tried pouring the mixture out on a parchment-covered cookie sheet to dry & hopefully harden, but it didn’t. Did I do something wrong? Thanks for your help, Julie

    • Unofficial CCK Helper says

      Hi Julie, I haven’t had this problem with the recipe, so I’m guessing climate might be an issue here. If you’re in a humid location or it was a humid day, that could definitely throw things off! Also, baking at a higher heat could help. Have you looked at Katie’s Recipe FAQ page at the top of her blog? It has a troubleshooting section.

  10. Theresa says

    I made this recipe this afternoon when my kids brought some friends over! I used honey and coconut sugar and worked like a charm. I did find it a little bit soggy so I baked it for 15 min. at 250′ and it was perfect! A new go to recipe!

    May I link to your website on my blog?

  11. Kitty says

    Oh, my GOSH, Katie!!! My 14-yr.-old daughter and I just made this for her friend’s 13th birthday today, and it was WAY BEYOND YUMMY!!! We expanded the recipe to fill a popcorn tin we had saved from a gift someone had given us and added about a cup or so of ENJOY allergen-free chocolate chips to the end product, and our whole family decided it was SOOO MUCH better than any other popcorn of that type we’ve had, AND, most importantly, without all the super-unhealthy ingredients. It was fun for us to make, too! Thank you so much for this wonderful recipe!!! I can see the long list of gift recipients forming now!!! ;))

  12. May Bambina says

    Hi fellow popcorn lovers,

    I have bought one of these popcorn poppers ages ago for under $25 (they have it in stores like Amazon and Walmart). It is fantastic, you do not need to pop the corn in any oil, it is completely air popped, and you rarely have a few kernels left! Very easy to then make into different popcorn based recipes, and a good way to reduce the calories!


    PS Your recipes are amaaaaaaaazing!

  13. Charity L. Boisseau says

    Caramel corn is my new addiction, but making it the traditional way has too many calories. This looks just about right. The last time I made caramel corn, I used molasses, which gives the corn a very rich, strong flavor. I liked it, but my son didn’t. I will try yours! Looks delicious!

  14. Lindsay says

    I have been making this recipe for years. It is my favorite go-to sweet popcorn recipe. I tried molasses and loved it–definitely makes it a more robust caramel-y flavor, but delicious!!! Thanks for sharing this recipe!

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