Is Movie Theater Popcorn a Gluten-free Go or a Gluten-filled No?

Popcorn is one of the easiest and fastest gluten-free snacks. It’s a mainstream product that is delicious and almost synonymous with movie-going, which is popular now as Oscar season approaches. Unfortunately, however, as with most commercial products, gluten-free goods that are packaged and processed can often lay victim to gluten contamination. One of the biggest questions I have faced is whether or not movie theater popcorn, that buttery, irresistible snack, is gluten-free.

Gluten Free Movie Theater popcorn

After doing some research, I found this article that summarizes the major movie theaters and their response to whether or not their popcorn is gluten-free. In short, the verdict seems to indicate that the popcorn itself is gluten-free, but the butter on the popcorn (which is increasingly an optional addition) is gluten-filled (thus contaminating the whole product). As with all things, it is important to follow your own reaction to whether or not the popcorn is gluten-free. Additionally, theater chains can vary from city to city. So although an AMC in one part of the country may still use butter with gluten, your local AMC may be keener to the gluten-free demands of their audience. Reassuringly, most movie theaters use commercial products that are subject to product labeling, which you can look at to determine whether or not the popcorn is a go!

If you’re craving popcorn, and don’t trust the microwave kind either (some celiacs are sensitive to all packaged products that are not manufactured in gluten-free facilities), try popping your own from the whole kernels! Just heat ½ cup of kernels with 2-3 tablespoons of oil (like canola or olive) over medium heat. You can sprinkle on some salt, cheese, or other spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, or pepper flakes to the kernels as they pop so they’ll have a personalized touch of flavor. You can also add ¼ cup of sugar to the kernels before they pop to get a sweet kettle corn batch! Be sure to use a pan with a fitted lid, and hold the lid on (the popping can get pretty powerful!) I’ve also found that shaking the pan over the stove as it pops will help prevent your popcorn (and pan) from burning. You can finish your popcorn off with your own gluten-free butter, salt and pepper.

Put in the DVD and enjoy your own movie-theater-style popcorn!


16 thoughts on “Is Movie Theater Popcorn a Gluten-free Go or a Gluten-filled No?”

  1. I am with Kristen D. I eat microwave popcorn at home and I always get a steaming bag at the Regal Cinemas near my home. I never get the oil they call “butter” added and I have not gotten sick. I am extremely sensitive to gluten and very careful about everything I eat.

  2. This article really didn’t answer anything except don’t have buttered popcorn in theater or make your own and watch movies at home.

  3. I get popcorn every time at the movies (and I’m a pretty voracious moviegoer) and I’ve never had any problems even though I’m getting the butter.

    I used to work in a movie theatre (20+ years ago), however, and this may be of note: I worked for the Carmike chain, which ran most of the theatres in the South. On many occasions, we used the same oil in cooking the popcorn that we used as “butter”. We also used something labeled “golden flavor topping” or something similar, and that may be the product that contains gluten that your article mentions. But as I said, I haven’t had any problems eating “butter”ed popcorn at the movies since discovering my gluten allergy.

  4. Actually, you shouldn’t use canola or olive oil to pop popcorn as they are easily damaged by heat. Popcorn typically requires a temperature of 400 – 460 degrees to pop (which is at or above the the smoking point of both canola and olive oil). A better option would be coconut or palm oil. Use of medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs) like coconut and palm oil results in less body weight gain and decreased size of fat depots. They also provide a greater satiating effect than long chain fatty acids. Canola oil contains a high level of omega 6 fatty acid which is inflammatory and people with celiac disease and NCGS, should avoid foods that promote inflammation. Coconut oil is high in omega 3 fatty acids and increases absorption of some of the B vitamins, the fat-soluble vitamins: A, D, E, K, beta-carotene, and some amino acids. About 50 percent of the MFCA in coconut oil is lauric acid, which strengthens the immune system and is also found in human breast milk. Caprylic acid and capric acid are also present, contributing to coconut oil’s antifungal, antiviral and antibacterial properties.

  5. I buy plain popcorn and put three tablespoons in a brown paper lunch bag and microwave. You don’t need oil that way. I have never gotten that butter stuff at theaters, even before GF. It is full of bad stuff that NO ONE needs!

  6. Here is my worry about all untested corn products. They can be contaminated at harvest time if they are hauled in the same trucks that haul wheat. This would include unpopped kernels. :(

  7. I fear that this article is a bit misleading, as it doesn’t provide adequate information for those who avoid gluten due to Celiac disease. Yes, butter is one culprit in popcorn contamination. But another is the type of oil that is used in popcorn machines. Many that we have come across use wheat germ oil, which may cause adverse reactions to those with CD or who are hypersensitive to gluten. Better to just pop your own and take it with you.

  8. I appreciate the comments on making popcorn in a paper bag. I don’t eat popcorn very often because its high glycemic but will try the “paper bag” recipe. Thanks! (& movie popcorn has never made me sick, either.)

  9. Well ive eaten popcorn from the local one a UNC with noproblems. Then just the other day we went to a theater put of town A regal theater. Had a big bag of popcorn and got sick from it. So i would have to say its a ranom roll of the dice. Next time ill skip it no matter whos theater it is.
    Just not worth getting sick.

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