Around-the-World Coconut Popcorn Mix

February 13, 2010
3 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
  • Serves 4 to 8
Author Notes

This savory, sweet, and spicy snack is like Cracker Jacks gone wild. There are some big flavors here, borrowing from Thai, Caribbean, Vietnamese, and Indian cooking. It's also spicy! So beware, and try not to watch weepy movies that'll cause you touch your eyes while you're eating this treat.

Popping the popcorn in coconut oil isn't strictly necessary -- substitute canola oil instead -- but you'll love the depth of coconut flavor you get from it. Also, if you don't have superfine sugar, whirr regular granulated sugar in a grinder, blender, or food processor until fine. —vrunka

Test Kitchen Notes

This is an awesome way to kick boring old popcorn up a notch into an entirely new stratosphere. Although it took me 3 tries to get the chili pepper/sugar mixture to melt properly, the end result was definitely a winner. I served it as pre-barbeque snack and everyone asked for the recipe. The spicy, salty, sweet combo is perfectly balanced and not at all cloying. Finding Thai chilis was somewhat of a challenge, but I think you could experiment with other kinds of peppers. Also, to avoid the melting fiascos I experienced, I'd decrease the sugar. —hurleyburley

What You'll Need
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup unpopped popcorn
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 2 to 4 Thai chili peppers, minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup superfine sugar
  • 1/2 cup peanuts, lightly roasted
  • 1 teaspoon lime zest, finely grated
  • 2/3 cup shredded, dried coconut, lightly toasted
  • 1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper, ground
  1. In a large pot (at least 5 quarts), heat coconut oil over medium-high heat. When it is hot, add the popcorn and cover tightly. Once popping starts, vigorously shake the pot to distribute kernels. Once popping slows, remove the pot from heat and pour popcorn into a large bowl.
  2. In a large skillet, heat the canola oil over medium heat. When it has warmed, add garlic and chili peppers just until they release their fragrance, about 10 seconds. Immediately add the sugar and stir several times to just melt the sugar. Pour over the popcorn.
  3. Add the peanuts, lime zest, coconut, black pepper, and salt, and toss well to mix.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • ChefJune
  • kldesjohn
  • Michèle Marie-Waite Dotson
    Michèle Marie-Waite Dotson
  • vrunka
  • Beautiful, Memorable Food
    Beautiful, Memorable Food
I love experimenting in the kitchen and learning new techniques.

29 Reviews

Meghan October 2, 2015
I changed a few things and it worked well for me; add a little more coconut oil to the pot for popping, and add the sugar as the kernels just start to pop (like making kettle corn). Stir/shake then cover. I also mixed all the other ingredients ahead of time and just adjusted the salt as needed. It just made it easier to mix. I substituted chili flakes because I forgot to buy Thai chilis, they worked nicely.
Amanda December 13, 2017
Meghan - how much chili flakes did you use?
cprojex February 27, 2014
Ah, I see now that comments have been set to come into my email directly, understand this was not directed singularly to me, thx.
Still, what is best popcorn oil, all?

JustPoppin B. March 10, 2014
From a flavor perspective, and ignoring the pro/con health claims about it, coconut oil is the best popcorn popping oil. It provides great flavor and is a "clean" oil meaning it won't gum up the hinges and mechanism of your stovetop popper if you're using one.

Use refined, not "virgin" coconut oil which has too much particulate matter in it to heat cleanly - otherwise it will smoke and possibly burn before reaching proper popping temp of over 450F.

Also make sure your coconut oil isn't hydrogenated. It's not necessary and only adds trans fats.
cprojex February 27, 2014
Curious, just got the somewhat prickly comment from choclinda direct to me in my email - bit of a surprise. I have not personally advocated canola oil, it is called for in the recipe. We have tried olive oil but also use peanut oil to pop popcorn. Is that an okay oil? Good to warn if canola is unhealthy and thanks for that, but can you make a constructive suggestion for an alternative oil?
choclinda February 26, 2014
Canola oil is not natural. Have you ever heard of a canola? This stuff is extremely unhealthy. Stop advocating it and instead use another oil. Unfortunately, olive oil in not good for sauteing as it burns easily.
sticksnscones December 10, 2013
Should the coconut be sweetened or unsweetened?
vrunka December 10, 2013
I usually use unsweetened. The rest of the mix is sweet enough!
ChefJune November 19, 2013
OMG! I'm going to make this to take as an "extra" for Thanksgiving dinner.
kldesjohn June 10, 2013
To help add an extra nuance of coconut, pop the corn with coconut oil instead of canola. Its healthier that way, too!
vrunka June 10, 2013
Hi kldesjohn, the recipe is actually written that way -- you pop the kernels in coconut oil if you have it. I agree, it does give the popcorn a wonderful flavor. In fact, popcorn popped in coconut oil is one of my all time favorite treats!
Michèle M. June 9, 2013
All you must do is add the sugar just after the kernels begin popping. It involves some quick moving, but works great. I do this all the time with my popcorn- sneak in sugar, salt, pepper, cayenne and nutritional yeast just as things start popping. This ensures that everything sticks and makes for a crunchy coating on eat piece.
vrunka June 9, 2013
Great idea. I've tried that before with nutritional yeast; I haven't tried it with sugar, but I bet it will work. The only problem is that inevitably several popcorn kernels come flying out when you open the lid! And a word of caution: don't be tempted to add all the seasonings right at the start when you add the kernels. This will result in a burnt mess.
Mimi D. June 9, 2013
To fearlessem: check the recipe because it asks for 1/4 cup sugar and your note says you tried to use 2/3 cup sugar, if that's the case, it may have just been too much and you should try again!!
fearlessem June 9, 2013
Hi Mimi, thanks, but see below -- Vrunka changed the recipe after I tried it. I will give it another go with this substantially reduced amount...
vrunka June 9, 2013
yes, sorry for the confusion. I did change the recipe just recently and the new amount should work better.
vrunka June 9, 2013
Just a note to anyone who wants to try this recipe. I changed the amount of sugar in the recipe so the sugar should melt more readily. I hope it works out, but if you still have troubles let me know and I'll keep working on it.
Elaine C. June 9, 2013
It's Cracker Jack. No "s."
cprojex June 9, 2013
I'd love to try this, hope this is not a stupid question, but has anyone tried sugar syrup for this - like what you get for iced coffee - or honey or agave?
Bevi June 9, 2013
I was thinking of trying agave. Not sure when I will get to this, but I would love to know your results.
cprojex June 9, 2013
I hope to get to it later this week, will gladly post results. #mouthwatering ;)
vrunka June 9, 2013
Agave syrup (or corn syrup for that matter) sounds like a good way to get around the problem of getting the sugar to melt in the oil. If you try it, let me know how it works out!
Whitney March 7, 2015
I tripled the recipe and had trouble getting the sugar to melt. Then I tried honey, which did not meld with the oil.
fearlessem May 28, 2013
I'm sad because this recipe has a great flavor profile -- the combination of ingredients tasted great together -- but the recipe really didn't work for me. I didn't have superfine sugar, so I blitzed granulated sugar in the food processor, but this didn't seem to make any difference -- I just don't see any way that 2/3rds of a cup of sugar will disolve in 1/4 cup of oil to make anything that remotely looks 'pourable' as a syrup to coat popcorn. I cooked it for a while hoping it would dissolve, but bits were starting to caramelize while the rest was still a huge mound of mostly granulated sugar. I 'poured' it on top of the popcorn and tried to mix it in, but it immediately just fell to the bottom of the bowl and clumped there with the coconut... I have another recipe for a maple coconut caramel corn and I may try to modify that recipe with these flavors added in, since the chili / lime / coconut / garlic really tasted great with the popcorn when I put them all together in one bite.
fearlessem May 28, 2013
I've just got to say again -- the flavors are great. My husband and I were licking the coconut chili sugar crumbs off the bottom of the pan! There's just got to be a way to get them adhered to the popcorn.
vrunka May 29, 2013
Oh no! I'm so sorry this didn't work for you! I have a shameful secret to admit: I'm terrible about accurately measuring ingredients for my recipes as I'm making them. I suspect that I listed too much sugar. I'm glad the clumped up crumbs were tasty, anyway!
vrunka May 29, 2013
I should mention that I did also try this recipe as a more straightforward caramel corn (so caramel plus all the spices) which was good, but I thought the sweetness kind of overran everything else which is why I decided to go with this modified caramel version. But clearly it still needs some work!
Beautiful, M. May 26, 2013
This looks fantastic and I love the tip not to eat while watching weepy movies!
Bevi May 21, 2013
This is amazing!