Is Movie Theater Popcorn Gluten-Free?

popcornLast week, Jessica discussed whether or not store-bought popcorn is gluten-free. Many of our readers then asked a great question – what about movie theater popcorn? We wanted to find out for you, so we contacted theaters around the country and asked whether their movie theater popcorn is gluten-free.

The short answer is that there is a very low probability that your popcorn contains gluten. Movie theater popcorn is just popcorn kernels and a substance which is related (in a vague way) to butter. That substance is almost always gluten-free. There is a possibility of your movie theater popcorn being cross-contaminated, but no more chance than there is that store-bought popcorn is cross-contaminated. That is, unless your movie theater serves hot dog buns or the like. Also, all of the popcorns checked out for Gluten-Free Living’s article are gluten-free.

So most likely, your movie theater serves gluten-free popcorn. But then we come to the disclaimers (oh yes, we know these all too well). The following are some of the responses we received from major movie theaters regarding their popcorn.

The popcorn served at AMC Entertainment Inc. theaters is gluten-free, but it comes with an advisory. There is a possibility of cross-contamination during the transportation of the popcorn. Popcorn is a grain transported in trucks that may have carried other grains, and AMC has no way of knowing if the truck once carried gluten-containing grains.

B&B Theatres reported that they use Orville Redenbacher popcorn, coconut oil colored with beta carotene, finely ground salt, and yellow color. That sounds gluten-free to me, barring any cross-contamination (see the Orville Redenbacher disclaimer, below).

Bow-Tie Cinemas says their popcorn is gluten-free, and the brand they use is Orville Redenbacher.

Kim from Reading Cinemas confirmed that the Odells popcorn oil used at the theaters is gluten-free. Reading Cinemas, however, also sent us a statement from their popcorn supplier, Orville Redenbacher: “Even though, to the best of our knowledge, glutens are not present, we have not analyzed for the actual presence of gluten. ConAgra Policy, at this time, prevents us from making “Gluten-Free” claims while the FDA Guidance on this matter is still being reviewed.”

A rep from Goodrich Quality Theaters answered simply that yes, their popcorn is gluten-free.

Harkins Theaters also replied that their popcorn is gluten-free, and then amended that statement to say the popcorn is free of wheat gluten but not corn gluten. Which, of course, for our purposes, means that it is gluten-free (most celiacs are not sensitive to corn gluten).

Doug from Hollywood Theaters stated, “I do believe our popcorn is gluten-free, as well as the topping, which is a canola-based product.”

Elanda from Landmark Theaters reported that yes, their popcorn is gluten-free. “We get it all from Orville Redenbacher’s so it’s all gluten-free,” she said. (Again, be wary of the Orville Redenbacher’s disclaimer.)

Larry Etter from Malco Theaters said their popcorn is gluten-free and from Orville Redenbacher. He also mentioned that though there is a possibility of cross-contamination, there are no wheat-related products in the theaters, so odds are low.

Patrick from National Amusements Theaters said their popcorn is gluten-free, and he sent a list of ingredients for me to examine personally. None of the ingredients contain gluten, as far as I can tell.

orvilleYou’ve probably noticed a trend at this point: many movie theaters use Orville Redenbacher’s popcorn. Orville Redenbacher itself, however, will not say whether their products are gluten-free. Orville Redenbacher is owned by ConAgra, which is very careful in its allergen statements. Unfortunately, such precautious statements often make it difficult to get a straight answer about processing procedures. In an automated phone message, ConAgra announces, “If you have any allergen concerns outside the top 8 allergens, we recommend that you do not consume the product, and consult your physician.” But the disclaimer sent to us by Reading Theaters suggests that the chances of Orville Redenbacher popcorn being anything but gluten-free are slim.

As well, Dan from B&B Theaters sent a statement from ConAgra, which stated,

“Yes we are gluten free however, we do not make the formal claim that our popcorn is 100% gluten free as there is always a chance that some contamination could occur.  An example might be a truck hauling our popcorn could have carried wheat in the past.  The real issue is that the US Government has not set any Gluten standards.  When the government establishes guidelines we will be able to test our corn and make the claim. Bottom line is that our plant only processes popcorn.  No other grains are in the plant.  With the exception of some type of contamination as mentioned above there is no gluten in our corn.

Here is the actual statement that our customer relations team issues:

Even though, to the best of our knowledge Glutens are not present, we have not analyzed for the actual presence of gluten. ConAgra Policy, at this time, prevents us from making “Gluten Free” claims while the FDA Guidance on this matter is still being reviewed.”

So, even through all that legal-speak, it does seem Orville Redenbacher’s popcorn is gluten-free.

My personal examination of the ingredients in Orville Redenbacher’s Gourmet Microwavable Popcorn – Pour Over Cheddar, Gourmet Microwavable Popcorn – Smart Pop Kettle Korn, and Gourmet Microwavable Popcorn – Movie Theater Butter Light did not reveal any gluten-containing ingredients. That does not mean, however, that the flavors supplied to theaters are gluten-free, so if you have doubts, ask the concession workers to show you the popcorn’s packaging.

That’s actually the best advice we can give you – ask to see the popcorn’s packaging, and ask what other ingredients are added to the popcorn (e.g. butter flavoring, spices). Often writing or calling consumer relations will not result in an answer, and occasionally you’ll get a rep who has no idea what gluten is anyway (one spaced-out consumer rep ignored my question entirely but told me he had eliminated wheat and corn from his diet because these ingredients are destroying the environment).

In conclusion: Proceed with caution, but ordinarily, eat up! Movie theater popcorn is almost always gluten free and safe to enjoy; we just have to work around some heavy language from the suppliers to figure that out.

Any other ideas for movie munchies? What theater do you go to? What snacks do you buy there?

28 thoughts on “Is Movie Theater Popcorn Gluten-Free?”

  1. This is great information. My husband has always avoided movie theater popcorn due to not knowing whether or not it contains gluten. This will be good to show him.

  2. My daughter’s friend who works concessions at our local theatre strongly suggested to us that we only buy the popcorn if we attend an early matinee since later in the day/evening there is a greater chance of cross-contamination from the hot dogs, non-GF nachos, etc.

  3. I personally stay away from movie theatre popcorn because of the incredible fat content even though it may be gluten free!! I think a large popcorn has a satuated fat content of 6 big macs….without adding the yellow liquid lard! A large popcorn is 4 days worth of fat in one “snack” .YUCK!! If popcorn is necessary for a 2 hr movie, Orville Redenbacher’s single serve bags are awesome…only 100 calories, 0.5gm sat fat, AND it fits in my purse!!

  4. Deb – Thanks for the awesome hint! Not all concession stands sell hot dogs or hamburgers, but if you go to a larger movie theater, that is definitely worth remembering.

    Kelli – After looking quickly, I see that most nacho cheeses tend to use flour as a thickening agent. A lot of processed cheese do tend to have gluten-containing ingredients. Unless you want to take the time to ask the concession workers to find the package, and maybe check with the brand yourself, you’ll probably want to stay away from the cheese – especially since the chips they serve are also a concern.

    Jill – I’ve also heard movie theater popcorn can be extremely fatty/unhealthy. And I too am guilty of sneaking food into the theater!

  5. This is great news! I’ve been to the movies twice recently and had a small bag of popcorn. I suffered no ill-effects afterwards (just it’s so salted! Ah well…).

    My next question is what someone above asked: What about nacho cheese served at movie theaters? I asked one concession stand employee and she offered to find out, but there was a line building behind me so I opted for popcorn.

    The theaters in Austin are predominantly Regal and AMC.

    Oh, I’ve snuck in food to theaters too. Ahh, I see someone above wrote that nacho cheese (which I doubt is actually real cheese for some reason) can contain flour. Well, I don’t think I can sneak in nachos, so popcorn it is!

    Thanks everyone!

  6. Hi Jackie – Yep, I wouldn’t trust the nacho cheese without checking at the individual theater. Sometimes you can call ahead to your specific theater and see if the concession workers can read you the ingredients. We have mostly AMC and Regal in Northern VA, too.

  7. Hi John – Thanks for sharing! Hmm…I would not eliminate the possibility that her popcorn was making her sick.

    However — Since we don’t have all the facts about that particular case, it would be too limiting to say that it’s a reason not to eat movie popcorn. Hasselbeck could have eaten something else, there may have been cross-contamination from something else in the concession stand, there may have been an extra butter topping with gluten-containing flavoring, or she may have just been reacting to the amount of fat in the popcorn. (I know a few family members who get ill from fast food beverages like lattes just due to the sheer amount of fat and sugar.)

  8. I just wanted to add that I also saw the episode of Dr. Oz with Elisabeth Hasselbeck and I’m pretty sure she said she always ate licorice at the theater and that’s why she got sick afterwards.

  9. Hi Deb – Thanks for the update. Yep, licorice often contains flour and therefore gluten. Again, thanks for the clarification.

  10. I wouldn’t believe anything Hasselbach says– after reading her book last summer and seeing her many mistatements- ie, vinegar, salad dressings, coffee– all of which she believes contain gluten– who knows what made her sick! I’ve eaten movie theater popcorn WITHOUT that crappy faux butter topping, and it’s never made me sick– neither has the home-made kind.Get a box of Raisinettes or peanut M & M’s and be done with it! Licorice should would do it!

  11. our locally owned movie theater actually has the ingredient label for butter topping posted on the wall behind the concession stand. they have the best popcorn i have ever tasted & it is gluten-free!

  12. I have just been newly diagnosed with gluten intolerance; avoiding all wheat has helped tremendously, of course. But, just this afternoon, I had movie theater popcorn, thinking it was safe…..I came home with the same problems that I have exhibited with wheat. I’m not sure if our movie theater has a cross-contamination.

  13. I was at the movies the other day and they charged extra for real butter. The oil/chemical stuff was free but real butter was extra. Butter is not good for you but at least it is real.

  14. The orange liquid they put on popcorn is just trans-fat dyed orange so you wouldn’t want to put it in your body. Gluten would only come form cross-contamination, so u have to ask about how/when they clean the machine. But most places use a chemical (hydrogenated oil – there’s no safe amount and you can run a car on the stuff) to pop the corn. It’s just best avoided. The machines are you usually sketchy anyway – unclean.

  15. Annatto coloring can make you bloaty as can xanthan gum and inulin.

    If you have stomach issues but no other symptoms like mood swings, itching, skin problems, etc., then it might be the other ingredients.

  16. The popcorn may not be what’s making people sick but many celiacs are also allergic to dairy products which add another dimension to the foods available at the movie snack bar. I take gluten free/ dairy free pretzels to the movies along with water and do just fine.

  17. I had a reaction at a movie theater today that I have never been to before. It was right after eating the popcorn. I googled and found an article that says not all of the butter toppings are gluten free! So, beware the butter. Regal Cinemas is one of the theaters that said their topping is not gluten free.

  18. There aren’t many people out there who are allergic to gluten. The anti-gluten bandwagon is going full force, convincing just about everyone that they have to buy gluten-free products. It’s crazy, but then that’s the way fads work. The fad sells books, gives TV personalities something to talk about, and food manufacturers a sales wedge. What will the food fad be two years from now?

  19. I have actually read many things that say Regal popcorn AND the butter flavor topping are gluten free. Not sure where Abby read that it isn’t.

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