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Types of Popcorn and Popcorn Machines

Popping salty, buttery, fresh popcorn at your concession stand makes your profits soar. However, without proper preparation and seasoning, your success could be limited. This guide will take you through each step of the popcorn-making process, from the type of machine that would best fit the needs of your business to exactly how you would like your popcorn to be flavored! This is the place to learn the difference between kernel types, and to explore the perfect salts, oils, and seasonings. You’ll also discover the bags, boxes, tubs, and different types of merchandisers we have available to help increase your already profitable popcorn sales.

Pop Your Way to Profitable Products

Americans consume 17 billion quarts of popped popcorn each year. The average American eats about 58 quarts. Just how profitable is popcorn? Here are some statistics to give you an idea:

  • A small order of popcorn costs about $.22 in food costs and sells for about $1.25. Profit of 87%
  • A medium order of popcorn costs about $.37 in food costs and sells for about $1.85. Profit of 80%
  • A large order of popcorn costs about $.53 in food costs and sells for about $2.75. Profit of 81%
Enter your estimates in each field of our Popcorn Food Cost Calculator and see how much money you can make over the course of one year. You might be surprised!

Popcorn Food Cost Calculator

Unit Cost
Retail Price
Servings Per Day
Profit Per Day
Profit Per Month
Profit Per Year

Kernel Types

First, you can select which type of popcorn you’d like to pop! We offer mushroom popcorn kernels, as well as medium and large butterfly popcorn kernels. While the kernels initially appear to be identical, each type will yield popcorn that is unique in its structure, benefits, and uses. Compare and contrast the styles below to best fit the needs of your operation.

Butterfly Kernels:

  • Irregular shape with many fragile wings protruding from each kernel.
  • More tender, light, and fluffy than mushroom kernels.
  • Most often used in movie theaters, stadiums, carnivals.
  • Non-uniform shapes allow you to fill serving sizes with less product to maximize profits.

Mushroom Kernels:

  • Compact, ball shaped popcorn.
  • Larger, denser, less fragile than butterfly kernels.
  • The consistently round shape provides a larger surface area to which a coating can stick.
  • Most often used in gourmet popping applications where caramel, cheese, chocolate, or other coatings are applied.
  • Kernel of choice for making kettle corn.

Popcorn Terminology

Still not sure which kernels to buy? Here’s a more in depth look at how the types are differentiated. Our site specifies an expansion rate, moisture content, and kernel size for each kernel.

Expansion Rate

The expansion rate measures the number of popped popcorn servings produced from a specific amount of unpopped popcorn. For example, 1 cup of popcorn kernels with an expansion rate of 38 will yield 38 cups of popped popcorn. An expansion rate between 35-40 is considered to be of good quality, but some of our kernels exceed that number. The greater the number, the greater the volume of popped corn.

Moisture Content

To ensure maximum popping efficiency, it is best to strive for kernels with a moisture content somewhere between 13% to 14.5%. While popcorn with a lower moisture content may not pop to its fullest potential and yield some unpopped kernels, popcorn with a higher moisture content may yield a chewy product and limit its expansion rate.

Storing popcorn kernels in a hot, humid environment can increase moisture content and potentially cause mold, while storing them in a cold, dry environment (such as a refrigerator) can decrease the moisture content and leave you with unpoppable kernels. It is best to store kernels in a sealed container at room temperature to block out humidity and maintain a constant moisture content.

Kernel Size

Kernel size is measured in K/10 g (kernels per 10 grams). To find the kernel size of popcorn, 10 grams of popcorn are measured and the number of kernels is counted. The greater the number of kernels, the smaller the kernel size. Kernel size simply refers to the size - it does not directly influence how the popcorn expands.

Popcorn Oils and Salts

Once you have narrowed down the perfect kernel types, it’s time to look at what gives the kernels their traditional, movie theater-style flavor. You’ll need at least oils and salts to achieve the classic popcorn flavor that everyone enjoys.

Popcorn Oil

Coconut oil has the light texture and slightly nutty flavor you'll find in most movie theater popcorn. Compared to other types of oil, it does not leave as much residue in your popcorn kettle. Extra virgin olive, walnut, avocado, and canola oil can also be used as a popping oil.

Popcorn Salt

Use popcorn salt, a super-fine salt designed to adhere to popcorn, to enhance the flavor of your freshly popped popcorn. You can use either flavored salt or traditional white salt to acheive delicious flavor.

Popcorn Kits

A popcorn kit gives you everything you need in one easy-to-use package! These products are conveniently pre-measured to fit a specific kettle size so you don't have to measure ingredients. Choose between our kits with kernels, oil, and salt that accommodate many sizes of popcorn poppers. We also offer a kit for your kettle corn machine that includes kernels, oil, and a sweet-and-salty kettle corn flavoring. Kits are most commonly used in a small-volume application like a department store concession stand, school fundraiser event, or even a single-house theater.

Making Popcorn

Carnival King PM30R Royalty Series 8 oz. Red Commercial Popcorn Machine / Popper - 120V, 1320W
Charles Cretors introduced the world’s first mobile popcorn machine at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. Since then, there has been a large expansion in the types of available popcorn poppers. We offer a large supply of popcorn machines, ranging in size from 4-8 oz. to 16-20 oz. This equipment essentially makes the popcorn kernel explode, or “pop.” Each kernel consists of water and starch that is concealed inside of the hull so that when the kernel heats up, the water expands and pressure builds up within the hull. The pressure will eventually create that unmistakable “pop” as the hull gives way to inflated starch that turns the kernel inside out.

Popcorn poppers provide for the escape of steam during the popping cycle. This prevents the popcorn from becoming soggy. We offer countertop popcorn poppers from several different brands. Check out the comparison below!

Carnival King

  • Built-in warmer light and warming deck
  • Stainless steel frame and kettle
  • Powder coated steel top
  • Easy to clean removable kettle
  • Includes 2 scoops and measuring spoons
  • Low noise motor
  • Removable crumb tray


  • Can produce 160 (1 oz.) servings per hour
  • Stainless steel with tempered glass cabinet
  • Aluminum bottom disc for even heating
  • NSF Listed


  • Made in the USA
  • Presentation lamp
  • High output anodized aluminum kettle
  • Easy to operate side-hinged kettle
  • Built in warming deck
  • Built in drawer collects unpopped kernels
Check out this video to learn more about popcorn poppers from our featured brand Carnival King. Learn about the popper’s features as well as how to operate the unit efficiently.

Carnival King Popcorn Poppers


Popcorn Seasonings

Great Western 17220 28 oz. Carton Frosted Caramel Popcorn Glaze - 12/Case


Use popcorn glazes to enhance the color and flavor of your freshly-popped popcorn. Simply add to your kettle with your oil before popping, and a sugar glaze will be applied to the popcorn as the kernels pop! The sugar and oil bond together during the popping process. Easy to use, popcorn glazes give popcorn a sweet and salty taste and irresistible aroma that’s sure to draw customers!

Increasing Sales

It’s important to present your popcorn in an appealing, easy-to-find way. You also have to make sure that the popcorn is merchandised in the right way, yet still warm enough for your customer to enjoy and come back for more. Investing in a popcorn merchandiser or popcorn popper display cart is sure to boost impulse sales. These displays will keep your product visible and ready to serve. Popcorn popper display carts add a sense of vintage charm to your popcorn display. Simply place your countertop popcorn popper on top of the cart, and the bright red color and large, old-fashioned wheel is sure to grab your guests’ attention.
Once customers of your movie theater, stadium, or amusement park have purchased popcorn, make sure to distribute your popcorn in profitable popcorn bags, boxes, and buckets. Not only will they enhance the customer experience with their decorative presentation, but your guests are sure to notice the colorful popcorn printed graphics when passing by. Soon they’ll start craving buttery fresh popcorn and pay your popcorn stand a visit!

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