Popcorn’s one of those versatile eats that can take you from snack time to dessert (and maybe even breakfastit counts as a whole grain, after all).

And if it’s glazed with crackly, sweet caramel to contrast with its nutty insides, all the better. This classic candy-snack hybrid is great munched on when shopping, watching movies, hanging out with friends, and the like—and though homemade is best, you’ll find ready-made versions that make enjoyment just a snip of a bag away. How do these brands compare?

Chef Tony’s Original Caramel

This relatively premium offering lives up to standard.

Surrounding each popped kernel of this relatively premium local brand is a thin, crackly caramel shell that’s just toasty enough and distinctly buttery. You get even more buttery goodness within its popcorn base, which offers a light crispness without being too airy (and which barely contains any hard-to-chew hulls). Sprinkled with salt outside, each resulting bite juggles a great balance of sweet and salty that calls for another handful.

Goldilocks Caramel Popcorn

Go for Gold(ilocks)’ for a deep, decidedly candy-like kick.

This homegrown bakeshop chain’s version stands out with its relatively darker caramel, which carries a slight artificial butterscotch-y tinge to it but also a good buttery note. It coats each popped kernel relatively thick that it can the result can feel too sweet and more like candy than a snack—but it makes for a great crunch that satisfies as you grind through with your teeth.

Kettle Korn Salted Caramel

Local player Kettle Korn gives classic caramel popcorn an update (and more contemporary identity) by branding it as salted caramel-flavored. You get a caramel that doesn’t taste as authentically of deep, burnt sugar—but feels dark with its artificial butterscotch-y taste and coffee-like tinge. Contrary to its namesake though, it falls short on saltiness (there’s salt alright, but not enough to really stand out as salted caramel). It also feels too soft and a tad stale on the inside, ending with hulls that are too hard and chewy.

Oishi Caramel Popcorn

Oishi’s version more crunch (and caramel), but is great if you’re after a milkier mix.

Oishi goes for a caramel that’s toasty but isn’t as deeply burnt, ending with a milky fattiness that makes each bite feel decadent. It coats the kernels very thinly, making for a less-sweet sensation—combined with the softer popcorn within, this also translates to less crunch-filled mouthfuls that just aren’t as satisfying.

The Verdict: Chef Tony’s

With its light-but-satisfying crunch and great blend of burnt-sugary, buttery notes and pop of salt, Chef Tony’s popcorn is our definite top pick. For a cheaper (and relatively more accessible) version with a distinctively candy-like appeal all of its own, try Goldilocks’. A bag (or tub) of any of these brands the pantry will satisfy the munchies, no matter what time of day.

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