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Teach Kids to Make Simple Spiced Popcorn

Science, history, and tuned-in senses all come into play.

Popcorn Friends

Spices are an essential part of everyday cooking almost everywhere in the world. Not only do they add lots of flavor to both sweet and savory recipes, they help define regional food cultures. And in our October Kitchen Academy box, “The Spice Hunter,” your Little Sous can start exploring the world of spices using something they’re very familiar with: popcorn.

In this month’s core lesson, kids will learn how to make stovetop popcorn (with your supervision, of course) and flavor it with a simple spice blend—or their own custom mix. Making popcorn is also a unique opportunity to teach kids how to use their senses of hearing while cooking—they’ll know their popcorn is ready when the popping slows down.

Here are a few teachable tips from this lesson:

Which came first: the movie or popcorn? Popcorn has been around for a very long time—indigenous people in South and North America have cultivated popcorn for thousands of years. But it became popular in America less than a century ago. During the Great Depression, people didn’t have much money for treats. Popcorn machines were invented and quickly became a popular source for cheap snacks. People would line up to buy it from the street vendors and sneak it into movie theaters. Eventually, the theaters realized how much money there was to be made, and started to sell their own.

The science of popping: Popcorn is a species of corn called Zea mays everta, and is unique in that it has a waterproof shell (called a hull, or “pericarp”). Inside is the starchy “endosperm”—the white stuff that expands when the corn is popped—and a tiny amount of water. When that water is heated to 212°F (the temperature at which water boils), it creates enough steam to break the hull and pop.

Butterfly or mushroom? When a popcorn kernel pops, the white, fluffy “flake” (that’s popcorn lingo) can take one of two shapes: a round “mushroom” or the “butterfly” shape that has irregular “wings.” Both shapes can come from the same cob, but the popcorn you pop at home is usually butterfly (mushroom-shaped popcorn is more sturdy and usually used to make caramel corn and packaged popcorn).

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Spiced Popcorn

This recipe accompanies a great lesson on the history and science of popcorn, available in our Kitchen Academy kit The Spice Hunter.”

Spiced Popcorn
  • Yield: Makes 8 servings


For the spice blend:
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon sweet paprika
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
For the popcorn:
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • ½ cup popcorn kernels


  1. Step 1

    Make the spice blend: Measure the salt and spices and place them in a small jar. Shake the jar to mix the spices. Set aside for sprinkling over your popcorn.

  2. Step 2

    Place the butter in a small measuring cup and heat it in the microwave for 20 seconds or until melted. Set aside.

  3. Step 3

    Heat the oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add a couple of popcorn kernels and wait. When the first popcorn kernel pops, your oil is ready for the rest of the kernels. Add them to the pot and carefully stir a couple of times to coat them in the oil. Cover the pot. After a minute or two, you’ll hear the popcorn starting to pop. When this happens, use oven mitts or pot holders to grab the pot’s handle(s), and shake the pan back and forth. Keep shaking every few seconds as the popcorn pops. When you can hear the popping slow down to one pop every couple of seconds, turn off the heat. Uncover the pot slightly to allow some steam to escape—if you trap the steam in the pot, your popcorn can get soggy.

    Sous Tip:

    Adult help is necessary for heating the oil and uncovering the pot; in general, kids and parents should be careful around heat!

  4. Step 4

    Let the popcorn cool for about 1 minute. Dump the popcorn into a large bowl. Pour the melted butter over the popcorn and stir with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula until coated. Sprinkle some of the spice blend over the popcorn and stir (you don’t need to add it all at once—this is called “seasoning to taste”). When the popcorn is seasoned to your liking, turn on a movie and munch away!

    Sous Tip:

    Again, adult help is recommended for dumping the popcorn into the bowl!