There’s lots of things I love about this healthy, homemade, oil free popcorn.
Firstly, it’s super easy to make. Heat up a frying pan, chuck some kernels in, swish it around and voila.
Simple, easy, fast.
Secondly, it’s an incredibly healthy version of the usual salt-laden, butter-coated popcorn.
No oil or salt in sight for these perfectly air popped babies.
Just pure, puffed corn. Completely natural, healthy popcorn.
Thirdly, no greasy fingers.
For someone who loves to experiment in the kitchen, I’m surprisingly unkeen about having grubby fingers.
Maybe it’s good hygiene. Maybe it interferes with my finger food senses, who knows. But I do like to keep my hands clean.
So I love that I can grab a big fat handful of these babies and come away with mostly clean hands.
No oily residue. No salty crumbs. Wonderful.
Fourth, it’s vegan and a whole food. Nothing added, nothing taken away.
I used to think of popcorn as an unhealthy snack, but now I realise that’s because of all the junk that’s normally added.
Once I realised that it was possible to make whole food, oil free popcorn, I was sold on the idea.
Fifth. It’s such a convenient snack food.
It keeps really well, it’s easy to cart around, or pack in school lunches, and it’s popular with my kids.
What more could I ask?
Sixth. It tastes delicious.
I have to admit to eating this air popped popcorn by the handful.
It’s filling and tasty, without needing to add anything to it.
Why spoil something so tasty?
A big thank you to The Vegan Ronin for showing me that it was possible to make healthy popcorn.
And here’s my version of their recipe.
How to Make Popcorn Without Oil
Make sure to read the tips below the recipe to get the most out of this healthy fat free popcorn recipe.
- 2 tbsp* (40ml / 50g) popping corn kernels
- Heat a flat bottomed frying pan on medium heat.
- Add corn kernels to pan, cover with lid and continue heating, shaking pan gently every 20-30s.
- Once kernels start popping, shake pan gently every 5-10s.
- As soon as popping slows, turn heat off.
- Allow kernels to cool and serve.
During: 10 mins
After: 5 mins (to cool down)
Need: Non-stick or cast-iron frying pan with a lid, stove
*Australian tablespoon (20ml)
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It also includes a handy Recipe Prep Checklist, to make sure you have everything you need on hand to get cooking.
And to help you make the most of this delicious recipe, I've also thrown in all of the super-handy tips and suggestions for variations.
Tips for making healthy popcorn
- Try to find organic popping corn kernels, and make sure they’re GMO-free as well, if you can manage it.
- If you have a frying pan with a see-through glass lid, this can make it 10 times more fun to watch. Either way, you’re going to want to use a lid. Trust me!
- The kernels will go a little brown as you heat them. This is perfectly normal, so don’t stress about it.
- Gently shaking (or swirling) the pan helps to heat the kernels evenly, and reduces the chance of burning.
- I used my hoovy-groovy infra-red thermometer to test the heat of my pan, and discovered that the ideal temperature is around 200°C. If you don’t have one of these awesome kitchen gadgets (and I highly recommend them), then use the rate of popping to guide you. If the kernels are popping too slowly, you need to turn the heat up a bit. On the other hand, if your kernels start to burn (or blacken) too much, turn the heat down. A little bit of browning is OK. You can always throw away any burned ones afterwards.
- Make sure that you turn the heat off as soon as the popping slows down. I always feel the temptation to leave it for “just a little bit more”, but you don’t want to risk burning your perfectly stovetop popped oil free popcorn.
- The corn will continue to pop after you take it off the heat, so leave the lid on for a minute or so to avoid very hot pieces of popcorn flying across the kitchen (or at the kids).
- I pick my popcorn out of the pan with tongs for two reasons: 1. It’s hot 2. It leaves the unpopped kernels in the pan, which can be really bad for your teeth if you accidentally bite into one.
- Make sure you leave the popcorn to cool before serving. Using my awesome infra-red thermometer, I discovered that they’re at about 60-70°C when you take them out of the pan, which is a sure-fire recipe for a burned mouth. Not good, so give them time to cool down before scoffing them down.
- I like my popcorn kernels plain, but that doesn’t mean you have to. You can add toppings to your homemade oil free popcorn if you like, but I suggest trying them plain first and seeing if you like them that way. Apparently plain popcorn also keeps for longer, which is a bonus.
Air-popped popcorn variations
- You could trying tossing them with some nutritional yeast flakes, curry, chili, salt, garlic powder or your favourite herbs and spices.
- Trying grinding up some of your favourite veggie chips in a spice grinder or food processor and tossing with your fresh popcorn.
- You can make salt and vinegar popcorn by dissolving some salt into your favourite vinegar, and spraying or sprinkling this over the popcorn. Not too much though, or it will get soggy and very tangy!
- If you have some die-hard oil-loving popcorn fans in your house, you could split up your popcorn into batches and drizzle some melted coconut oil over their serving.
- Turn your oil free popcorn into a kind of trail mix by adding dried banana chips, pieces of your favourite raw vegan chocolate and a selection of activated nuts.
- Make a sugar-free sweet popcorn mix by grinding freeze-dried strawberries into a powder, and tossing it over your popcorn, along with some shredded coconut and a pinch of cinnamon.
FAQs about oil-free popcorn
Are non-stick frying pans safe to use?
There seems to be evidence mounting that the non-stick surfaces in many fry pans are causing health issues for some people.
The main problem seems to be that small amounts of the non-stick surface are actually falling off, getting caught in the food, and being eaten, which introduces a foreign substance into the body and may cause inflammation.
Some of the problems with non-stick surface are made worse with high heat, but fortunately that’s not something that this recipe requires.
So if you’re trying to minimise the amount of toxins you’re adding into your body, which I highly recommend, then you’ll probably want to stay away from non-stick surfaces.
Fortunately there’s quite a few safer alternatives around these days, including ceramic-coated pans and well-seasoned cast iron pans, so you do have some viable alternatives.
Here’s a couple of good-quality options from Amazon to get you started:
- WearEver Nonstick Scratch-Resistant Ceramic Coating PTFE-PFOA-Cadmium Free Cookware
- Lodge Cast-Iron Skillet with Glass Lid
One of my readers also used a normal stainless steel frying pan with a lid, and another used a saucepan, and neither of them had any issues with the popcorn sticking. Apparently stove-top popcorn kettles can also work well without oil too.
Of course if you want to air pop popcorn without needing to add anything to it, or have a suitable frying pan, you could always buy an air popcorn popper instead.
Is oil actually that bad for you?
Well, the answer to this depends on the type of oil.
There are certain fats that our body needs, and we can’t function properly without them. So a diet that was totally lacking in fat would be very unhealthy indeed.
However, there are many fats in our diets today that are very bad for our health, because our body is not designed to use them, and these include trans or hydrogenated fats, highly refined and processed oils, and excess amounts of Omega 6 and polyunsaturated fats.
The best kinds of oils for our bodies are those that are cold-pressed, unrefined, from plants and high in saturated fats, monounsaturated fats and essential fatty acids, because these are the fats that our bodies need most to be healthy.
Oils that fall into this category are from coconuts, avocados and olives. Oils from hemp and flax seeds contain high levels of essential fatty acids and our bodies also need other essential fats (DHA and EPA) that can only be obtained in large enough amounts from seafood (e.g. salmon or sardines), seaweed or algae.
That said, our bodies don’t need massive amounts of oil, so if you do decide to use oil, then do it in moderation, and aim to get as much of it as possible from whole foods.
Personally, I don’t tend to use extracted oils much in my cooking these days. In fact I tend not to use anything that’s been extracted from the original food as much as possible.
Instead I prefer to eat whole foods that contain healthy fats in the form of avocados, hemp seeds, coconuts, nuts and flax seeds, and trust that my body will take what it needs from the foods that I eat.
Why aren’t most of my corn kernels popping?
The first reason for this could be that the temperature of your pan is too low.
I have found, using my super handy infra-red thermometer, that the ideal surface temperature is around 200°C.
Usually this is the temperature where the kernels will start to brown a bit, but they don’t tend to burn before they pop.
So play with your heat settings a little to see if this helps.
The other reason why your kernels may not be popping is that they are too old.
Apparently the older your popping corn gets, the more unpopped kernels you will have in a batch of popcorn, and the effect is magnified when you don’t use oil.
This happens because the “pop” in popcorn results from a small amount of moisture trapped inside the kernels, so the older it is, the greater the risk that the kernel has dried out completely, leaving no water inside to create the “pop”.
So check the expiry date on your corn kernels and if they’re past the date, you can still use them, but they just might not pop as well.
Any kernels that don’t pop can be composted, so nothing goes to waste!
My oil-free popcorn budget
Here’s roughly how much this oil free popcorn cost me to make:
|TOTAL||50g||$9.90 / kg||$0.50|
|Corn kernels||2 tbsp (50g)||$4.95 / 500g bag||$0.50|
- All prices are in Australian dollars
- Your costs may vary quite a bit depending on whether you buy in small or large quantities, as conventional or organic, and the time of year.
- This fat free popcorn is pretty inexpensive to make. With the only ingredient being popcorn kernels, the only way to make this recipe cheaper is to buy cheaper popping corn, but make sure it’s still good quality popcorn.
My inspiration for making healthy popcorn
I was at an information session for my 4yo daughter’s school transition program, and popcorn was on the list of suggested healthy snacks for school, which sounded like a great idea.
I haven’t made popcorn for years, and the last time I made it I used oil.
But I wanted a healthier version, so I went searching for oil free popcorn and came across this great recipe by The Vegan Ronin.
It was the best of the recipes I came across, so I pretty much followed their process, and it turned out great.
I was actually surprised at how easy and low-fuss it was. Not to mention delicious.
And it’s so much fun for the kids to watch as well.
Definitely worth giving it a try.
Oil-free air-popped popcorn resources
Here’s an interesting perspective from Matt Frazier, the No-Meat Athlete, on why he stopped using oil:
- Why I’ve Finally Stopped Eating Oil @ No Meat Athlete
And a useful explanation of how to keep popcorn fresh and what happens when it goes “bad”
- Can Popcorn Go Bad? @ King of Pop
And some insights into the hazards of non-stick pans and your alternatives
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And have an awesome day!
~ Nikki, Eating Vibrantly