This Halloween, indulge in an all-natural popcorn ball recipe that’s made without refined sugar or corn syrup! These homemade popcorn balls are sheer genius—you can feed them guilt-free to the kids that come trick or treating… or just treat yourself to a little Halloween nostalgia. Check out this old-fashioned way to make wonderfully buttery, caramel popcorn balls at home.
Today’s popcorn balls are full of sugar—really. Full of it. Most recipes to make them at home use a full 2 to 3 cups of sugar per batch, and many include corn syrup. At the grocery store, the tastiest of all are almost completely high-fructose corn syrup, as well as artificial food dyes to give them that green Halloween flare. Spooky indeed.
But this recipe rocks. Instead of using buckets of refined sugar to “candy” the popcorn, it calls upon a mixture of butter and honey to make a more caramelized popcorn ball. They’re baked before being shaped into balls in order to get the batter to really sick to the popcorn, not unlike how you bake granola to get it sticky and crunchy.
I didn’t have any on hand when I made these, but if you’ve got some spirulina or green food powder in the kitchen, add a few pinches of it to the batter to make your popcorn balls green. That green stuff really dyes them well (and gives them a bit of a health kick). If you’re making these with the kids, be absolutely sure that the popcorn has cooled off enough to handle when you take them out of the oven. The popcorn clusters closest to the bottom of the baking sheet are hot (!), so test it out with your hands before you let your kids shape them into balls.
Baked Halloween Popcorn Balls
Makes 12 popcorn balls
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup popcorn kernels
1 stick salted butter
½ cup honey or agave
2 tablespoons molasses
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 tablespoon spirulina or green food powder, optional
Preheat oven to 320°F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
Heat oil in a large stockpot over medium-high heat (don’t let the oil smoke or it will burn). Add popcorn and cover. Cook until kernels all pop, shaking frequently, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
Combine butter, honey, and molasses in a medium skillet over medium heat. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally; simmer over medium-low 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in vanilla and cinnamon and green powder, if using.
Pour butter mixture over popcorn; stir well with a spoon to evenly coat. Spread mixture evenly onto prepared baking sheet. Place in oven and bake 20 minutes, gently stirring popcorn every 5 minutes.
Remove from oven and allow to cool until just able to handle. Using hands, shape popcorn mixture into 10 evenly-sized balls. Allow to cool completely before serving.
images: Kimberley Stakal