Oscars party: The red-carpet flavors of gourmet popcorn
By Kathy Stephenson
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published Feb 19 2013 08:15AM
It used to be that butter was the go-to flavor for popcorn, with caramel and bright orange "cheese" worn for holidays and special occasions.
But food fashions change. Today this fluffy white snack has a red-carpet wardrobe, showing up at parties and events flaunting rosemary and truffles, maple syrup and bacon, and even dill pickle flavors. (See recipes at the bottom of this story.)
Gourmet popcorn is creating such a buzz that the National Association for Specialty Food Trade called it one of the Top 10 snack foods of 2013.
And Utah is on-target with this national trend. "People come in and they are so overwhelmed with how many flavors we have," said Holly Walker Roose, who with her husband and children owns and operates Roosters Gourmet Popcorn in South Jordan.
Riding the cusp of a trend • Roosters, which opened about three months ago, offers 60 gourmet popcorn flavors. The colorful smorgasbord includes salt-and-vinegar, Buffalo wings, loaded baked potato and Southwest jalapeno as well as white chocolate pretzel, blueberry muffin, cake batter and cinnamon toast.
The store uses fresh ingredients to flavor its popcorn, Roose said. "We use real cheese, not powdered, and the loaded baked potato gets real sour cream and chives."
The couple got the idea for their specialty shop, located in The District shopping center, while visiting family in their home state of Texas. "There were popcorn stores with all these flavors and we thought the concept would go so well in Utah."
During the holidays, the shop sold a lot of individual and corporate gifts. Customers also have ordered the gourmet popcorn to give as party favors for baby showers and birthdays.
Lately, popcorn bars at weddings and special events "are becoming huge," she said. That’s because popcorn serves as a blank canvas that allows brides to create a color and flavor scheme that fits their big day. "If you want a purple, apple-flavored popcorn, you can have it," Roose said.
Roberta Murdock, of Salt Lake City, was in the Roosters Store last week buying a bag of the Southwest jalapeno popcorn, a flavor she had tried at a recent party. "I was surprised at how good it tasted," she said.
Elevating an all-American snack food • Gourmet popcorn does cost more. At Roosters, bags range from junior ($3.50) to extra large ($51), but prices can vary depending on the ingredients, with candy and nut flavors costing more.
Venesa Dobson, co-owner of PopArt Gourmet Popcorn, attributes the popularity of the snack to maturing tastes. American palates have become more adventurous as they travel to other countries or simply learn more about food through television and the Internet. "People are exploring new flavors and looking for something unique and different," she said.
Dobson and husband Michael, who have art and theater backgrounds, launched PopArt in the spring of 2011, selling rosemary black truffle popcorn at the Millcreek Farmers Market. Shortly after, they added cracked pepper Parmesan, white cheddar jalapeño and Thai coconut curry.
Using organic kernels and top-quality ingredients has helped the company grow exponentially, with gross sales increasing 1,000 percent a year after the company’s launch. Today, PopArt popcorn is sold in Harmons Grocery Stores, Whole Foods, Liberty Heights Fresh and nearly a dozen other specialty stores around the state. Prices vary at each location, but online a 5-ounce bag costs $4.50.
The Dobsons are hoping to buy new equipment this year that will allow them to make sweet flavors. "Our goal is to take this all-American snack and elevate it to the next level," Dobson said.
The flavor of the cinema • While gourmet flavors are currently exploding in popularity, they likely never will surpass traditional buttered popcorn at the movie theater, said Lisa Call, whose family owns the Kaysville Theatre and Lisa’s Passion for Popcorn. "If you come to the movie theater, you want the butter-flavored popcorn," she said. "You want the traditional thing."
Call started her business more than 20 years ago, after her father-in-law taught her to make caramel popcorn. Today, Lisa’s Passion for Popcorn makes 80 different popcorn flavors, with the majority sold wholesale. For local customers, there’s a small retail shop next to the theater where gourmet flavors can be purchased in smaller amounts.
Carmel popcorn is sold at the Kaysville Theatre, but "it doesn’t replace movie theater popcorn," Call said. "It replaces the other sweet treats."