March 5, 2009

The Joy of Unsalted Popcorn

Popcorn is a glorious thing. It is the one snack that goes hand in hand with my love for the movies. The funny thing is, there is no one point in time that I can point to and definitively say, "This is the moment when I knew I loved this hot popped vegetable." Actually, I am not sure anyone would ever say that; still, there is no diminishing my love for the snack.

popcorn2I was walking through the lobby of the local Regal Cinemas (the best theater in the area, hands down) when I noticed a new sign. The sign was touting a new addition to their concessions menu: salt-free popcorn. I was actually a little shocked, but in a good way. I never thought I would see this particular item up for sale.

Theaters tend to take at least a little bit of pride in their popcorn. I am sure you all have been to a couple of different theater chains, but have you noticed the difference in the flavor of the different popcorns? I do. There was actually a time when popcorn quality was a factor I considered when I decided where to go see the latest releases. Yes, I do realize that sounds a little bit weird.

Each theater/chain has their own additive of salt and seasonings that is added to the popper with each new batch. It is this powdery substance that gives the popcorn that uneven yellowing and gets salt into every nook and cranny. The next time you are on line waiting for your favorite bagged snack, watch when they add the popcorn. There will be a scoop of kernels followed by a small scoop of the additive. I have no problem with this, despite the obvious health risks that comes with eating just about any kind of snack. I actually like the Regal chain's flavor. AMC's popcorn is also pretty good. Both of those are better than a couple of other locals.

PopcornI have also been to theaters that offered other flavor enhancers. There was a theater I went to once, a few years back, in White Plains, New York, that offered cheese, Parmesan garlic, and caramel flavoring. There were "flavor stations" with the additives in a saltshaker-like container. Believe me, the caramel was quite tasty.

All of these different flavorings bring me back to this unsalted option. It made me think about how much we attempt to cover the flavor of any given item. You have a baked potato, but you load it up with sour cream and chives. You have a steak and you slather it with barbecue sauce or ketchup (blasphemy!), and you have popcorn and you cover it in salt and golden flavoring (it isn't really butter at all). All this does is distract you from the pure flavor of the base item.

Whatever happened to enjoying food for what it is without covering it up with something else? I actually love the taste of pure, untainted popcorn. I used to have a stovetop popcorn popper. It looked like a big aluminum pot with a lid and a crank handle. I would use half the needed oil (it is a little healthier and still does the job) and pop up some unadulterated corn and eat it as is, sans salt or butter.

popcorn1Many scoff at me and my "bland" popcorn, but I loved it. The taste of popcorn does not need any covering up. Sure, it is not the most flavorful of snacks in this form, but it has a clean taste that really hits the spot. I recommend you try it.

Regal's offering, whether it be this location or the entire chain, is a fantastic addition to their menu and I hope it lasts. I will have to be sure to commend management for the decision. I have noticed that when I do eat it, I do not feel as weird after polishing off the bag, and I do not have a shirt covered in salt!

There is another aspect to this offering that goes beyond my liking the unencumbered taste; it has to do with health reasons. You see, if you did not already know, salt is bad for you. It is a key ingredient in high blood pressure, which is a leading cause of cardiovascular disease. Perhaps this is a reason for the offering?

The last thing we need is for movie lovers keeling over in the theater face-first into a jumbo bucket. In this day and age of obesity in every age group, we need to start at least trying to eat a little healthier.

I am as guilty as the next guy when it comes to poor eating habits. I am far from what you would call svelte, and am among the obese of the nation. I admit this as freely as I admit to trying to make a difference. It is a slow battle and my willpower is often very weak. This may be a small step, but it is a step nonetheless. Unsalted popcorn, in addition to being free from sodium, also has a lower fat and calorie count, making it a little easier on the conscience to eat.

So, in the end, if you love popcorn as much as I do, try it unsalted. It may not have the same flavor pop as those kernels with the salt and the butter, but it is a great snack and healthier, too!


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