Why (& How) You Should Be Eating Popcorn For Breakfast

February 26, 2016

If you Google "popcorn breakfast cereal" (which I've done many, many times), you'll find lots of chatter about popcorn as the O.G. breakfast cereal.

(Editor's Note: And since the original publication of this article, the New York Times reported evidence that English colonists—believed to have been introduced to puffed corn in February of 1630 by the Wampanoag Indians—ate it for breakfast with milk and sugar "as the first puffed cereal.")

On many web forums and myth-buster sites, you'll hear tell of rumors that, way back in the nineteenth century, people were pouring milk over popped corn: ye olde Corn Pops. One primary piece of evidence for this speculation comes from Laura Ingall Wilder's Farmer Boy, set in the 1850s:

You can fill a glass to the brim with milk and fill another glass of the same size brim full of popcorn, and then you can put all the popcorn kernel by kernel into the milk and the milk will not run over. You cannot do this with bread. Popcorn and milk are the only two things that will go into the same place. Then, too, they are good to eat.

(You'll also come across a few recipes for "popcorn cereal," which consist of two ingredients and a methodology I'm sure you can intuit.)

Don't you just want to pour some milk over this bowl of popcorn? Photo by James Ransom

I'm not here to verify or refute these popcorn myths. Instead, I'm here to tell you that even if these myths are just plain bogus, there's a good idea there regardless.

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Pouring milk over popcorn as-is might not be a smart choice: If you've ever interacted with damp popcorn, you can imagine how quickly it would sog and mush if you intentionally soaked it.

Photo by James Ransom
Photo by Eric Moran

But what if you used kettle or caramel corn—where sugar syrup acts as a "raincoat" to protect it from the milk—instead? The popcorn would soften, its hard edges subsiding, while the outsides would remain crunchy.

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Top Comment:
“Popcorn cereal is somewhat like puffed rice or puffed oats in concept. All of which are delicious. I do like your recipes but they are probably not good for a diabetic. I think this could be made with a sugar substitute. I have made pecan pie with sugar free maple syrup and a sugar sub. Hubby could not tell the difference from a pie made with sugar. : )”
— I_Fortuna

Calling all lovers of sog and lovers of crunch, alike: This is YOUR cereal!

Popcorn granola, in which raw oats are replaced entirely with popped popcorn. Photo by Alpha Smoot

Then we took this idea one step further and set out to create popcorn granola—which, as it turns out, was not at all hard to do. To make popcorn granola, we substituted popped popcorn for the oats in Nekisia Davis' Genius Granola, adding a lot of popcorn (7 to 8 cups) to make up for the density discrepancy between popped corn and oats; replaced the sunflower seeds with sliced almonds; and proceeded with the recipe as written.

After giving the granola time to dry and harden outside of the oven, we tasted it: Sweet and crunchy, with huge clumps of shaggy, sugar-coated popped kernels, nuts, and pumpkin seeds, it was as good on its own as it was with cold milk, which cut some of the sweetness.

Popcorn granola bars, in which rolled oats are replaced with popped popcorn. Photo by Alpha Smoot

It was only a matter of time before we tried popcorn granola bars. We followed the recipe for no-bake Bulk Bin Snack Bars, replacing the oats with 5 to 6 cups of popped popcorn. We had to loosen the almond butter-oil-honey-apple sauce mixture by heating the almond butter and adding additional oil, but other than that, the recipe worked as written, yielding airier, squisher bars.

We declared both experiments successful.

Try not to eat all of the popcorn before you use it! Photo by Mark Weinberg

Here's what to keep in mind when you try it yourself:

  1. You can't substitute popcorn for oats 1:1. Since popcorn is so much more voluminous, you will need to use much more popcorn to absorb all of the granola liquids. For the Genius granola recipe, I used 7 to 8 cups of popped popcorn (from about 1/3 cup raw kernels) to sub in for 3 cups of oats.

  2. Popcorn absorbs oils and sugars differently than oats. It doesn't become as "wet" as oats, which means you might be left with liquid that accumulates at the bottom of the baking sheet and forms a sort of candy brittle.

  3. Bake at a low temperature (or don't bake at all). For the granola, you want to toast the nuts and seeds and melt the liquids into a sugary syrup, but you need to avoid burning the already-cooked corn. So don't veer above 300° F (but that shouldn't be a problem with most granola recipes).

  4. Anticipate an airier texture. Your granola will be at once squishier and crunchier than it would had you used oats. The granola bars will be more puffed and cushioned than the standard bars.

  5. Don't be scared of squashing your popcorn. It's okay if some of the popcorn breaks apart a little. The size variance will make the eating experience more exciting (and it means that the granola-binding syrup (or granola bar-binding "sauce") will reach more crevices, leaving fewer spongy, all-popcorn spots.

Get the full recipes right here:

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Diana
  • Lea
  • Brenda Pawloski
    Brenda Pawloski
  • I_Fortuna
  • Evan Daniel Thede
    Evan Daniel Thede
I used to work at Food52. I'm probably the person who picked all of the cookie dough out of the cookie dough ice cream.


Diana March 13, 2017
Anyone figured out weight watchers points
Lea November 15, 2015
I have got to try 6 kids love popcorn, kettle/caramel corn and granola, so surely they'd love this.
Brenda P. November 15, 2015
I read and reread Laura Ingall Wilder's books as a child and I am still surprised that they are not a part of everyone's knowledge base. I have never forgotten the passage about popcorn and also how Almanzo's family was in general more well-fed than Laura's as hard as her parents worked to feed her and her siblings.
I_Fortuna November 15, 2015
Sugar really does not act as a "raincoat" for popcorn. The sugar coating will dissolve in liquid, however, more slowly than if the popcorn were not coated. Popcorn cereal is somewhat like puffed rice or puffed oats in concept. All of which are delicious.
I do like your recipes but they are probably not good for a diabetic. I think this could be made with a sugar substitute. I have made pecan pie with sugar free maple syrup and a sugar sub. Hubby could not tell the difference from a pie made with sugar. : )
HapppyBee January 1, 2016
I would love your recipe for the pecan pie using a sugar substitute as my hubby is diabetic as well. So much sugar in everything and I'm leery of experimenting with the substitutes and usually just give him smaller portions of the real thing. Thanks!
I_Fortuna January 1, 2016
HI HapppyBee, Just find any pecan pie recipe and substitute the granulated sugar with Splenda or other sugar substitute that measures the same as sugar. Also, were it calls for corn syrup just use sugar free maple syrup. I use any brand but I like Cracker Barrel sugar free maple syrup when we have it on hand.
If you want it a little richer just add a tablespoon of molasses (op.). Yes, it has sugar but is also rich in nutrients. You can also add maple flavoring instead of the molasses if you want but it really doesn't need either of these in my opinion.
My hubby could not tell the difference between the sugar free pie and the cane sugar pie that our neighbors gave us and we both loved it.
Some of the carb issues are in the crust but it is nominal compared to the sugar in pecan pie.
I would toast the pecans a little too so that the pie has that toasted pecan flavor.
Let me know how it goes for you and feel free to ask questions. : )
Evan D. November 12, 2015
As kids we are popcorn with milk all the time, though this slimy soggy mess was more a bedtime snack then breakfast cereal! Thought that was a normal thing :). Recipes look great!
Sarah J. November 12, 2015
I hope you like them!! They were so much better than I expected—so good that I might switch to making my granola with popped corn all the time.