There can be a lot of confusion about the different varieties and names associated with popcorn kernels. I’ll try and clear up that confusion and help you purchase the popcorn that you’re looking for!
Kernels generally get divided between “white” and “yellow” varieties. And, within each of those varieties, there are size differences.
White popcorn, as the name implies, pops up a brilliant white. Also, it pops up a bit smaller than yellow popcorn and has a neutral, pure popcorn flavour. This makes white popcorn excellent for adding flavourings and seasonings.
Yellow popcorn pops up with a yellow tint. I often think yellow popcorn looks more buttery in appearance, and maybe that’s why yellow popcorn is used at movie theatres. This popcorn has a more distinctive flavour, with some people describing it as slightly “nutty”.
Now that we have covered white and yellow popcorn, let’s cover some of the additional type and characteristics of popcorn!
You may see popcorn described as “hulless”. Hulless is not a variety or a type of popcorn; it is simply a characteristic of popped popcorn.
To be clear, all popcorn has a hull – the outer layers of the popcorn kernel. Some popcorn pops with more hulls (the hard, yellow bits that get stuck in your teeth or lie at the bottom of your popcorn bowl), and some with less. If you can’t stand picking hulls from your teeth, try a variety of popcorn that produces less hulls when popped.
Not only are there White and Yellow varieties of popcorn, small, medium and large sizes of popcorn and popcorn with fewer hulls, but there are also different shapes of popcorn you may want to consider.
Butterfly shapes (wings)
Again it’s not a variety of popcorn but simply the shape that comes out of some types of popcorn. If you’re looking to add granulated seasonings and toppings to your popcorn, you want that good stuff to coat and stick to each piece of popcorn. That’s where wings are quite handy! Wings are the flaps, nooks and crannies of popcorn that help hold all your seasonings.
Mushroom is another popular shape of popcorn. It pops into a more solid, round popcorn, like the top of a mushroom. (I personally call thembrainsbecause they kind of look like brains!) Mushroom popcorn is excellent for caramel popcorn or popcorn coated in glazes and toppings. Its pieces are stronger than butterfly-shaped popcorn and won’t easily crumble when you mix in these types of toppings. Find Mushroom aka "Brains" kernels here.
An important thing to know about mushroom corn is that it will not pop very well in most consumer-grade hot air poppers. This is because the hull requires more heat in order to fully pop than most hot air poppers can produce. A stove-top popper, like the Whirley Pop, is ideal as you can control the heat.
As you can see, you’ve got a lot of choice when it comes to popcorn! If you’re used to only one particular type of popcorn, you’ll be surprised at how good another type can taste! Try a couple of different types and you may get ideas on new seasoning and topping combinations as well.