Over the past few weeks I've been on a mission. See it occurred to me recently that kettle corn is the great underrated sweet snack, the perfect game day treat for those who are sweets-inclined. Brownies and cookies are great at most occasions, but they don't allow for extended, hours long grazing and munching.
So I went out and sourced as much kettle corn as I could find, until my kitchen looked like its own aisle at the supermarket. The disappointments were great and varied. Some tasted like practically nothing at all—stale popcorn slicked in a slight corn syrup film. Some were tooth-achingly sweet, the sugar crystals crunching and adhering themselves to my molars. Others tried to leverage the classic buttery taste, making each bite taste like I had taken a mistaken combination mouthful of Sugar Babies and movie theater popcorn. Given how good most savory popcorn is, it was surprising how difficult it seemed to make it sweet.
And then I received my delivery from 479°. The founder, Jean Arnold, has been a popcorn obsessive since childhood. She decided to put her degree from Le Cordon Bleu in London to work, making gourmet popcorn out of her house in San Francisco. The name of the company, 479°, refers to what she believes is the optimal temperature for popping the corn.
My delivery included a variety of sweet popcorn. All were air-popped, gluten-free, and used organic ingredients when possible. So how did they taste?
Awesome, across the board. Sea Salt Caramel is the closest in the line to traditional kettle corn. It's made with organic heirloom non-gmo popcorn, organic agave nectar, brown sugar, butter, coconut oil, and sea salt, and unlike some of the salted kettle corn I've tried, it's well balanced between salty and sweet. The caramel tastes like homemade caramel—a rare feat in a world where most supermarket snacks that claim to be caramel-flavored actually just taste like super-sweet sugar—with notes of toffee and brown sugar. The popcorn is a little sticky by nature, but the contrast of the crackly caramel coating and fluffy popped kernel was delightful to snack on.
Technically I was only looking for kettle or caramel corn, but when I see a bag labeled Chipotle Caramel + Pumpkin Seeds I'm not going to not try it. This flavor has a lingering heat that builds, never becoming "spicy" but not feeling weak, either. The popcorn is covered in a blend of chipotle, cinnamon, ancho, cumin, allspice, and sea salt, but I think that the chipotle flavor really shines though. Chipotle has an earthy, smokey quality that pairs well with the brown sugar coating. The pumpkin seeds add extra crunch.
If you're looking for something to really satisfy your sweet tooth, try the Pumpkin Pecan Praline variety. The popcorn is coated with dark caramel, flavored with pumpkin pie spices, and scattered with pieces of candied pecans. The dark caramel is heady, again showing that depth of flavor that real caramel has. The pumpkin pie spices give it an air of fall, but not so much that I felt strange eating it in January. The candied pecans are crunchy nuggets of sweetness.
The bottom line? I'm pretty stoked to have found something that satisfies my sweet tooth and my desire for something crunchy and snackable. Game on.
479° popcorn is $3.99 per bag and can be purchased at various stores in San Francisco or ordered online
About the author: Carrie Vasios Mullins is the editor of Serious Eats: Sweets. She likes to peruse her large collection of cookbooks while eating jam from the jar. You can follow her on Twitter @carrievasios