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?