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FeaturesStories from The Takeout about food, drink, and how we live.  

Provided you don’t burn it, it’s pretty hard to screw up popcorn—no rancid butter, don’t over-salt, keep it from getting too terribly stale, end of list. It’s also easy to shake up (and not just so the butter makes its way down from the top layer). Think of the classic flavors: Caramel corn! Cheese popcorn! A blend of caramel-and-cheese popcorns (a.k.a Chicago Mix)! Those weird seasonings they have at movie theaters! A world of popcorn possibilities awaits those willing to venture outside the realms of butter and salt.

Recently, I stumbled on a new favorite in that category: Bloody Mary popcorn.

The version with which I fell in love came in a bag, though I’m dying to try the recipe above. Still, it prompted a fun discussion in a recent Takeout meeting: If tomato powder (plus a bunch of other seasonings) makes for a great popcorn seasoning, what other powder-foods-as-seasonings have we been neglecting?

So I went to the store and bought different packets. With one exception, I stayed away from the spice section—“Wow, paprika tastes good” doesn’t seem like much of a discovery. Other than that, if it was food or food-related and it came in powdered form, it was fair game. Here are my findings.

The methodology

I used white gold popcorn kernels, freshly popped. In handfuls, I separated the popcorn into a smaller bowl, then added a small amount of melted, unsalted butter. I would then add a small amount of the given powder, cover the bowl, and shake. I would then add more powder to taste as needed.

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17 of the 20 weird powders I bought.
Photo: Allison Shoemaker

The very bad

Honestly, there were fewer misses than I thought, but there were a handful of things that were just terrible. Granted, nearly all of these are things that were almost certainly going to fail as popcorn seasonings, but I wanted no stone left unturned. This is a strange job sometimes. Here we go.

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Lipton Soup Secrets Extra Noodle Soup Mix: Just no. The worst. I thought I could sift out the weird chicken powder from the weird mini-noodles, but nope. It took a lot of effort to get this to a place where I could taste how bad it was. I cannot stress this enough: Do Not Put Lipton Noodle Soup Mix On Your Popcorn.

Rating: no buckets awarded

Idahoan Buttery Homestyle Mashed Potatoes: These tasted okay, but only because the potato flakes dissolved in the butter and none of it wound up on the popcorn. It was just lightly buttered popcorn sitting in a bowl of wet potato-ish mush.

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Rating: 🍿

Maruchan Ramen Noodle Soup, packets only: Tried two flavors, shrimp and “oriental.” While easier to apply, far too salty and overpowering, even in small doses. Hard no.

Rating: 🍿

Lipton Recipe Secrets Onion Recipe Soup & Dip Mix: The biggest disappointment of the bunch. I honestly thought this would be a no-brainer success. Unfortunately, this is (like the soup) a powder with a bunch of other stuff mixed in, so it didn’t suit my purposes, and the taste was pretty off-putting. Now if they sold the dust from Sour Cream & Onion Pringles by the jar, that would probably be great.

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Rating: 🍿

Also bad: Cherry Kool-Aid (didn’t taste good, with or without sugar added); Strawberry Jell-O (ugh, the consistency!); McCormick Italian Mushroom Spaghetti Sauce Mix (was hoping for something Bloody Mary-esque, but alas, just bland.)

The slightly less bad

Knorr Tamarind Soup Mix: I really like this stuff, but it didn’t really work as a popcorn topping. Still, it was interesting, and I think if you were to use it with something else and make a blend of some kind, it could be good. As it is, one bite was kind of intriguing, and then it went steeply downhill.

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Rating: 🍿🍿

Louie’s Italian Beef Au Jus Seasoning: Another one I had high hopes for, but this was also pretty forgettable. It wasn’t objectionable, but nothing that made me want to keep eating it. It smelled great, though.

Rating: 🍿🍿

McCormick Buffalo Wings Seasoning Mix: So bland! Didn’t taste anything like Buffalo sauce in this context. Free idea: do a Chicago Mix-type thing, but with half Buffalo popcorn and half blue cheese popcorn. Think of me when you’re rich, and know that this powder won’t help you.

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Rating: 🍿🍿

Also mixed reviews: Two more McCormick products just did not do the trick: the mild Chili Seasoning Mix, and the Enchilada Sauce Mix. They just made the popcorn taste generically spiced.

The decent

McCormick Turkey Gravy Mix: In small doses, and at the right time, this could be pretty tasty. It’s essentially Thanksgiving-flavored, and while it wore out its welcome pretty quick, the first few bites were surprisingly appealing. I won’t ever do it again, but I don’t regret it, knowwhatI’msaying?

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Rating: 🍿🍿 1/2

Taco Bell Original Taco Seasoning Mix and La Preferida Fajita Seasoning: Not bland. Another “wow, probably too much” situation, but in a sort of Nacho Cheese Doritos way, where you can’t stop eating it despite that. Honestly, I might do this again if I’ve got a serious case of the munchies. Slightly prefer the La Preferida mix, but your mileage may vary. Again, small doses, to taste, and probably only small batches of popcorn at a time.

Rating: 🍿🍿🍿

The tasty

Knorr Pesto Sauce Mix: This only misses top honors because it’s a little gloopy, but if you’re okay and/or in the mood for something kind of messy, then consider this one a winner. It’s just pesto, on popcorn, and it is delicious. The first one that prompted me to make a small second batch. Honestly, I’m reconsidering this now. If you kept testing for the ideal ratio of butter to powder to popcorn, this could be an unreserved winner. Bright, basil-y, cheesy goodness.

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Rating: 🍿🍿🍿🍿

McCormick Sloppy Joes Seasoning Mix: The perfect option for the lover of the sweet-salty combo. This one was a significant surprise. Sweet but sharp, not overpowering but not vaguely spiced either. I don’t love Sloppy Joes, but I’d eat Sloppy Joes popcorn. Go easy on this one, should you attempt it, as I did when I made a small second batch.

Rating: 🍿🍿🍿🍿

The champion

Photo: Julie Thurston Photography (Getty Images)

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Swiss Miss Milk Chocolate Hot Cocoa Mix: I made a handful, and then I made a much larger bowl and ate all of it. (It’s been a hard week.) I’ve had chocolate popcorn before, but the problem with using real melted chocolate is that it’s so heavy, and of course glues everything together. This was still a bit sticky, but so good. Again, if I find myself watching old episodes of Cheers with a serious case of the munchies, and I find I’ve got a sweet tooth, I will make the shit out of this shit. My advice here is to add a little, then shake; add a little more, shake again; and repeat until you have a consistency that appeals. And a little dash of salt makes it even better.

Rating: 🍿🍿🍿🍿1/2

One final piece of advice

Don’t try a bunch of these all at once. You won’t feel great, especially once you’ve tried the cup o’ noodles powder.

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