Cupcakes have had their heyday, and now it's time to move on.
The desserts first grew in popularity--according to Business Insider--in 2000, when Carrie and Miranda ate cupcakes at Magnolia Bakeryin an episode of "Sex and the City." Sprinkles Cupcakes was one of the first (if not the first) cupcake bakeries in the country when it debuted in 2003, but its expansion has since slowed as people chase after newer, more exciting trends.
And that's where gourmet popcorn comes in. Sure, caramel corn and white cheddar-dusted puffs have been available in giant novelty tins for years, but popcorn-only storefronts are a fairly new beast. Here in Houston, we have nearly ten stores devoted primarily to popcorn of all flavors and colors.
Recently, we stopped by The Popcorn Bar on the Southwest Freeway between Edloe and Weslayan to find out what the hype is all about. What we found was enough popcorn to feed a small army in more than 100 flavors ranging from the classic (caramel) to the savory (Parmesan garlic) to the downright bizarre (cherry limeade).
So move aside cupcakes, 'cause popcorn can do everything you can do, plus it lasts longer, it's easier to transport, and it's (probably) healthier.
Here are our new favorites:
10. Banana Pudding Yellow and white kernels coated in hard banana and vanilla flavoring with mini Nilla Wafers mixed in. Slightly sweet, but not cloying.
9. Strawberry Cheesecake White kernels are coated with a brittle cheesecake flavoring (about the consistency of caramel corn), while pink kernels are coated with a strawberry flavor. Eat both together for a bit of strawberry cheesecake with a hint of popcorn crunch.
8. Cherry Limeade Exactly the color of Sonic cherry limeade. Covered with a pink candy coating that actually tastes incredibly close to legit cherry limeade. Almost too sweet, but not. Refreshing in a weird way that popcorn usually isn't.
7. Heath Toffee Almond Like a crunchy Heath bar, but with whole almonds and, of course, popcorn. The kernels are coated in chocolate, then mixed with crushed toffee and almonds for a sort of deconstructed candy bar.
6. Jalapeño Cheddar Savory popcorn heavily dusted with dark-orange powdered cheddar cheese and jalapeño flavoring. Quite spicy!
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5. Loaded Baked Potato All the ingredients that go into a baked potato (cheese, chives, bacon bits) powdered to coat popcorn. I believe there might also be some potato flour in there, too. If it sounds like too much going on in one serving of popcorn, don't be fooled; it's subtle, a bit spicy and totally addictive.
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4. Caramel The old standby, done perfectly. The caramel coating is thin enough that it doesn't stick in your teeth, but substantial enough to pack a big burnt-sugar taste in a tiny bite. Melts in your mouth.
3. Peanut Butter and Chocolate Like a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, only with a little less chocolate and a little more of that salty, popcorn flavor. Somewhere in between a sweet and savory snack, but definitely filling thanks to all that great peanut butter.
2. Dill Pickle One is a popped grain, the other a fermented vegetable, and yet, this popcorn tastes very much like a crisp dill pickle. Little shreds of green dill can be seen coating the popcorn, as well as a powdered vinegary flavoring. I don't know how they do it, and I don't care. I'm eating this (and only this) during the movies from now on.
1. Houston Mix It's the best-selling variety at the shop, partially because we have a lot of hometown pride, and partially because it's a little sweet and a little salty in one convenient mix. Caramel popcorn and double-cheese popcorn (as in twice-coated in that finger-coloring powdered orange cheese) are combined in a mix with something for sweet addicts and those who prefer more savory items. The combo may sound questionable, but give it a try: There's a reason more people buy this flavor than anything else.