Top Of The Pops: Popcorn gets a healthy makeover

From the UK… Popcorn is becoming a major hit beyond cinemas – with a healthy makeover and mind-blowing new flavours. And now Marks & Spencer, the great barometer of middle-class esteem, has become the first supermarket to launch its own “gourmet range”, which includes such unconventional flavours as curried coconut & black onion seed, chocolate & paprika and salted caramel.

“We first spotted big-flavoured, low-fat popcorn in San Francisco last year,” says Matt McAuliffe, M&S product development manager and the man who masterminded the souped-up snack’s move into M&S stores. Quoted in an article in Britain’s Independent newspaper, he added: “As we are such a nation of cinemagoers, we knew it was likely to suit British palates. Though we’ve given it an adventurous flavour makeover, while keeping the salt and calorie content as low as possible.”

Indeed, so low-cal is the new-style popcorn – which is mostly made by popping kernels of corn in warm air, rather than the traditional oil popping method – Weight Watchers has recommended one of the new brands, Diva Gourmet Popcorn (4g fat, 100 calories per 23g bag), to its flock of dieters.

“They’re a great snack to eat between meals or could be just the ticket to eat with your sandwich at lunch instead of crisps,” advises Laia Farran Graves in the group’s latest missive on snacking.

Sandwich chain Pret a Manger have tapped into demand for a healthy lunchtime snack, too. Brightly coloured packets of “skinny topcorn” now nestle alongside the stores’ parsnip, beetroot and carrot crisps (themselves pioneering products when they launched in the late 1990s) in the chain’s 160 UK stores.

“Our skinny Topcorn responded to the British consumers’ desire for innovative takes on old favourites, in a similar way to our crisp flavours and they have proven a real best seller,” says Sandy Collyer, Head of Food at Pret. “Topcorn is tasty, while also being low fat, so is great for snackers and fitness fanatics.”

While the sumptuous coating on some brands can nudge up the calorie-counter to crisp-like levels, on the whole the new tide of popcorn brands have a first-rate nutritional profile. So good in fact, that start-up company Peter Popple Popcorn is marketing its whole-grain fruit chutney and golden syrup flavours (both contain 1.6g fat, 79 calories per 20g) as a children’s lunchbox filler.

“Whether you’re looking for party food or a snack for the children, popcorn is just the thing: it’s full of vitamin B and E, has a low GI number and has a similar quantity of fibre as the equivalent weight of whole-wheat pasta,” says Louise George, the brains behind the brand.

It is not, however, just children and health-conscious snackers it appeals to. The higher reaches of foodie-land have cottoned on to popcorn’s potential too…..

The Independent: Read more