After spending a year at summer baseball games, movie-theater dates, and county fair outings, the average American will have eaten 68 quarts of popcorn. This is often the classic type of popcorn: fluffy kernels, bright yellow in color, sprinkled with handfuls salt.
Two local Seattle companies, KuKuRuZa and Seattle Popcorn Company, have moved this beloved snack onto a different track. These aren’t microwaved seeds, and there’s no “golden topping,” wannabe butter; this is locally made, gourmet popcorn, sold throughout the city of Seattle.
Seattle Popcorn Company’s Uncle Woody’s Caramel Corn doesn’t have its own store, but most places in the city are distributors. You can pop into a local supermarket, like Metropolitan Market or Bartell Drugs, and it will probably sell bags of Uncle Woody’s. Their bags of popcorn are sold in more than 100 locations, including the District Market, where UW residence hall students can use their dining plan. A 12-oz bag is usually in the $5 range.
Unfortunately, not every store sells every flavor; you may have to call a store and check if it carries the kind you’re craving. Each of these independent vendors may offer up to six varieties, like “Butterscotch Caramel Corn” and “White Cheddar Cheese Corn.”
In contrast, KuKuRuZa sells about 25 varieties, including “Brown Butter & Sea Salt” and “Buffalo Blue Cheese.” They range from sweet flavors to four different types of cheeses to unique combinations like “Chicago Style.” Their March flavor of the month, “Irish Coffee & Cream,” caters to St. Patrick’s Day fans. One-gallon bags range from $13 to $19.
These flavors may sound a bit crazy, but their unique seasonings are actually mixed quite skillfully. “Buffalo Blue Cheese” combines the spice of cayenne peppers with the coolness of blue cheese. “Chicago Style” mixes together cheddar and caramel popcorn pieces, blending sweet honey and cheesy powder. Eaten one-by-one or together, this flavor is one of the tastiest that KuKuRuZa offers.
In terms of KuKuRuZa’s sweeter treats, the “Rainbow Fruit” flavor is a little too much for me. It tasted more like candy than traditional popcorn, but candy enthusiasts may appreciate its fruitiness.
Fans of classic popcorn tastes should try “Brown Butter and Sea Salt.” A rich, buttery flavor infuses every kernel, melting as soon as it hits your mouth. Uncle Woody’s “Truffle Salt Popcorn” almost achieves this effect, but because the pieces are stuck in a bag all week, the flavoring becomes unevenly distributed.
Although it only has two locations, KuKuRuZa has more personality because it sells directly from its flagship stores in downtown Seattle (215 Pike Street) and Ballard (2211 NW Market Street).
KuKuRuZa’s stores are luxurious. Rows of popcorn sit under lit glass countertops, similar to an old ice cream parlor. A smiling employee tempts customers with samples. Unfortunately, Uncle Woody’s is sealed in bags, incapable of providing such a personalized experience that guarantees freshness.
After tasting the popcorn flavors, customers at KuKuRuZa choose how to package their popcorn. They can choose a decorated gift tin, individual bags, or variety bags that will fit in a KuKuRuZa gift box. Uncle Woody’s also offers bags and tins, but many vendors don’t carry the full variety of packaging.
Because Uncle Woody’s is sold in regular grocery stores, it is not possible to customize bags unless they’re purchased online. Anyone interested in purchasing large quantities has to call Uncle Woody’s to purchase large quantities for parties and gifts.
Conversely, the KuKuRuZa store employees can provide high volume to anyone who walks in the door.
If you’re grocery shopping and want to experience a meager taste of Seattle-based popcorn, Uncle Woody’s is your best bet. But those willing to make the trek to a KuKuRuZa store in downtown Seattle or Ballard will surely be rewarded with a perfectly crunchy, well-seasoned bite of America’s favorite snack.
The verdict: KuKuRuZa, not Uncle Woody’s
Reach reporter Olivia Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @oliviarrose