Spoiler alert: It's not butter
movie popcorn with butter
Credit: Photo by Greg Vote, VStock LLC via Getty Images

If you are a fan of movie theater popcorn with movie theater butter, I’m going to ask you for your own sake, for that of your future moviegoing joy to please stop reading now. Remember back in those halcyon days when you had no idea how many calories were in a #2 Quarter Pounder with Cheese value meal, or how many grams of fat were in that pint of mint chip? Sometimes, just embrace the blissful ignorance. You don’t always want to know how the sausage is made, you feel me? Turn away, and go read my recipe for making French toast out of leftover pizza instead. Trust me, you’ll feel better.

Are they gone? Good. Now let’s you and I talk.

I have written before on my deep and important relationship with popcorn. Sweet fancy Moses, I even put it in scrambled eggs. And while my favorite will always be the corn I pop at home, there is something so nostalgic and wonderful about movie theater popcorn. I don’t go to the movies that often, but when I do, there is a bucket of corn situation for certain. I can plow through a large bucket by myself if the movie is long enough and lunch a distant-enough memory. But I have never liked the movie theater butter. It is always so greasy, so rich, it diminishes the popcorn experience for me.

I never thought much about that movie theater butter because I didn’t eat it, and so did not care what was contained within. But in college, working for a student organization that planned and executed all of the social programming for the campus, I came face to face with movie theater popcorning. We did movie nights on Fridays and Sundays, and we all had to take turns manning the concession stand where we, like every theater, really made our money. So I had to learn how to make movie theater popcorn.

Enter cartons of Flavacol and Butter Flavored Topping. Yeah. That’s not the same as butter at all. Flavacol is the yellow powder that gets added during popping to give your popcorn that yellow buttery color. It is essentially just a super-fine salt with some coloring agents, although people swear it has butter flavor, even though there are no extra flavorings in it. But Butter Flavored Topping? That is a whole other story.

Your movie theater butter has no butter in it, but it does have partially hydrogenated soybean oil (a.k.a. trans fats), beta carotene (a coloring, makes carrots orange), tertiary Butylhydroquinone or TBHQ (synthetic preservative that keeps the color and texture from changing as the product sits), polydimethylsiloxane (silicone based chemical that prevents foaming), and, wait for it, buttery flavoring. They do not say what exactly makes a buttery flavoring, but they do admit that it isn’t butter. So it is some sort of chemical that mimics butter.

And the part that is most egregious to me? Movie theater butter topping actually has 20 more calories per tablespoon than real butter. Forget the whole trans fat, bad cholesterol, chemically laden, artificially flavored part, it is also 20 percent more caloric? That's adding insult to injury. Especially since a large bucket contains a minimum of three tablespoons, and as much as six if you have them do the butter on half of the corn before filling up and more butter on top. That could also take your large corn into the over 2000-calorie realm. Up from the about 1000 calories for a plain. Double. In just fat and chemicals.

I hope that if you stayed with this it is either because you don’t like fake oily butter flavored topping on your movie snack, or because you deep-down wanted some good reasons to just say no when that gawky teenager asks if you want butter on that. Because even if you want butter on that, you don’t want the pseudo butter they are offering. And if you are a movie theater butter fan who just couldn’t resist, I hope that I haven’t ruined your popcorn future. You can’t say you weren’t warned.