Is Movie Theater Popcorn GMO? The Answer Might Surprise You

popcorn GMO?

Photo by Kathleen Cavalaro

By Case Adams, Naturopath

Popcorn is that one treat few can separate from going to the movies. And popcorn – if it is made right – can be a super-nutritious snack. But is movie popcorn – or most conventional popcorn for that matter – made with genetically modified corn? Even though most corn is now GMO in the U.S., the answer might surprise even the most healthy proponent of non-GMO foods.

Ask most health nuts and the answer would be ‘most certainly yes’ – because some 80-90% of all corn now grown in the U.S. is genetically modified – if you are in a U.S. theater, especially one part of a national chain or franchise, that popcorn must come from genetically modified seeds, right?

Wrong. Popcorn is grown from a completely different type of seed than normal corn seed. Feed and sweet corn for human consumption is grown from seeds with completely different traits than a popcorn seed. Popping corn seed has been bred over centuries – many say it originated with South American Indians – with increased starch within the kernel and a harder outside shell. That hard shell does not readily let moisture in, keeping the inner starch layer protected from heat and moisture.

This increased starch within and hardness outside creates pressure when heated, and the resulting burst of starch during the popping process.

Sweet corn or feed corn have been bred for their thin outer kernel shells with juicy inner starches. This makes these varieties nearly impossible to pop – even if they are harvested later as popping corn is.

Yes, popping corn is harvested long after most sweet corn or feed corn is harvested. This allows the kernel shells to become harder.

And fortunately, the agrochemical companies who have decimated the corn fields of the U.S. with genetically engineered sweet and feed corn seeds – bred to withstand a greater amount of herbicides and pesticides – have not yet ventured into the genetic modification of popping corn seeds.

Thank goodness for that.

This means that theater popcorn – and the so many other commercial forms – will not contain GMO corn.

What about the rest of the ingredients in the popcorn?

Theater popcorn won’t contain GMOs UNLESS the theater, in its wisdom (sic) decides to use conventional soybean oil to pop the popping corn. Because well over 95% of all conventional soybeans grown in the U.S. are genetically modified, that popcorn will likely be a source of GMOs – unfortunately.

The best question to ask your theater vendor is quite simply: What kind of oil do you use to pop the popping corn?

And this does not necessarily assure us that theater popcorn is all that healthy either. Theater popcorn is notorious for also using hydrogenated soybean oil – this will contain trans fats that can compromise the blood vessel walls.

Theater popcorn can also use artificial butter flavoring, which can contain diacetyl. This has been linked to increasing beta-amyloid build-up among brain and nerve cells – which connects it to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia in general.

So definitely – hold the artificial butter flavor.

Without this junk, popcorn can be incredibly nutritious

University of Scranton Professor of chemistry Joe Vinson reported in a 2012 American Chemical Society presentation that ounce for ounce, popcorn can contain more antioxidant polyphenols than many fruits – at 300 milligrams per serving (compared to an average of 160 mg in many fruits).

My favorite popcorn recipe is simple: Organic red popcorn popped in coconut oil with unprocessed mined or sea salt, sprinkled with nutritional yeast.


More SS, Vartak AP, Vince R. The butter flavorant, diacetyl, exacerbates β-amyloid cytotoxicity. Chem Res Toxicol. 2012 Oct 15;25(10):2083-91. doi:10.1021/tx3001016.

American Chemical Society Press Release. Popcorn: The snack with even higher antioxidants levels than fruits and vegetables. 2012. Mar 25. Acc. 2013. Sept 16.

Case Adams is a California Naturopath with a PhD in Natural Health Sciences, and Board Certified Alternative Medicine Practitioner. He has authored 26 books on natural healing strategies. “My journey into writing about alternative medicine began about 9:30 one evening after I finished with a patient at the clinic I practiced at over a decade ago. I had just spent the last two hours explaining how diet, sleep and other lifestyle choices create health problems and how changes in these, along with certain herbal medicines and other natural strategies can radically yet safely turn ones health around. As I drove home that night, I realized I needed to get this knowledge out to more people. So I began writing about health with a mission to reach those who desperately need this information. The strategies in my books and articles are backed by scientific evidence along with wisdom handed down through traditional medicines for thousands of years.” Case connects with the elements by surfing, hiking and being a beach bum.

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