6 Cheddar Popcorn Brands, Ranked

Chasing the cheesy high of the metal holiday popcorn tub.

Popcorn is, hands down, one of the greatest mostly air foods of all time. It's the right amount of salt and fluff, especially when I'm watching some prestige drama after a long day. While "movie style" popcorn will always be a treat and kettle corn mixes things up nicely for the palate, the best subtype is the "cheesy" variety, which always manages to feel the most exciting.

We've rounded up six brands of cheese popcorn found at the grocery store and ranked them based on several criteria. So you don't accuse me of bias, I did force invite my neighbors to cast their votes as well, and I made them do it blind so they didn't know which brand was which. One of the tasters was a child, which helps cover our demographic bases.

Best overall: Smartfood

Smartfood White Cheddar Popcorn (remember, white cheddar is the same as regular cheddar) is the most easily accessible, available in the most stores near me, and is often sold in single-serving baggies for those who eat their popcorn on the go. I don't know why this popcorn is "smart," as it doesn't seem to possess any qualities showing inherent intelligence, but it has the right balance of salt to tang to fluff and is "medium healthy" compared to the others on this list. It had, by far, the most dairy-like flavor. Neighbor approved.


Runner-up: G.H. Cretors

This is the only orange cheddar popcorn I could find in an actual store; the ascendance of white cheddar appears to be absolute. I'm partial to artificially orange-ed foods because of my childhood eating mac and cheese, Doritos, and the annual holiday gift from my aunt that contained cheese, caramel, and plain popcorn divided in a festive metal tub. (I still store my ornaments in these tubs.) I often buy the G.H. Cretors cheddar and caramel popcorn combo bag, which provides a hint of that tri-flavor holiday nostalgia. For this tasting, I bought a bag of only cheese-flavored popcorn, and while I can't say its flavor is particularly cheesy in the strictest sense, this brand had the most tang of all the products sampled. My neighbors are better foodies than me, though, and disliked its artificial color.


Best store brand: Trader Joe’s

"Store brands," like Target's Good & Gather or Costco's Kirkland, are often a mixed bag when it comes to snacks. Of all these semi-generic products, I preferred Trader Joe's White Cheddar Popcorn. It has a hint of sweetness I might not have noticed had I not been tasting it alongside its competitors, and I know from experience it's easy to eat more than the specified serving size. The child taste tester among us ranked this one as his favorite, which is good news if you're already buying numerous TJ's snacks for the kids this summer.


The middle of the pack: Popcornopolis

The Popcornopolis brand is marketed as "nearly naked," and while I dislike the image of anything being naked but for a slight dusting of cheese, I overall enjoyed this product because the cheesy taste, while mild, is not invisible. The Popcornopolis white cheddar popcorn tastes the most like the Trader Joe's variety; it leaves a middling amount of residue on one's fingertips, and it boasts a good saltiness. This bag had a denser popcorn consistency per popped kernel, which people may or may not prefer to the fluffier varieties. Everyone in my tester group ranked this one squarely in the middle, which isn't a bad place to be.


Least favorite store brand: Good & Gather

Good & Gather is the Target store brand of white cheddar popcorn, and it's ultimately underwhelming—which doesn't always happen with Target's house-brand products. This stuff was dense like Popcornopolis, but the flavor was barely cheesy. We all thought it tasted a bit like SkinnyPop. Since Target almost always has Smartfood available, go with that whenever you're headed to the store and need a cheesy popcorn fix.


Overall loser: SkinnyPop

I really didn't go into this taste test thinking I'd hate Skinnypop, especially since I've eaten it several times over the years without full-blown rage. But in this formal journalistic context, I found myself feeling resentful of many aspects of this product. For one, I dislike the name of the product because it insinuates that it's a diet food, and while it does have slightly fewer calories than the other brands we tasted, I don't really care—because it also has the least amount of flavor. The popcorn taste was there, but the cheese was nonexistent. Even the texture of the cheese dust was indiscernible; I even double-checked to make sure I bought the right bag, thinking I'd gotten plain by mistake. The child taste tester also ranked this one as his least favorite, breaking the cycle of diet food trauma for the next generation.