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Kettle Corn vs Caramel Corn

What’s the Difference Between Kettle Corn and Caramel Corn?


When it comes to varieties of popcorn, caramel corn and kettle corn are two of the all-time top favorites. But how do the two compare? What are the similarities and differences between them? Let’s dive in and explore caramel corn versus kettle corn.


While both caramel corn and kettle corn are sweet, caramel corn is richer in flavor and texture. Historically sweetened with molasses, caramel corn is most-often candy-coated. The thin, crunchy, sweet coating is derived from melted sugar. The coating is applied after popping.

Kettle corn is a combination of sweet and salty flavors. It is lighter in flavor and texture than caramel corn as the sugar and salt are mixed in during popping rather than coated.

an example of mushroom style caramel corn and butterfly style kettle popcorn


It’s not surprising that both caramel corn and kettle corn begin in the same way… kernels! But the process for making each is different.

Did you know there are two types of popcorn? Butterfly popcorn is tender, light, and irregular in shape. It is used in traditional popcorn. Mushroom popcorn is commonly used for caramel corn and kettle corn as it is larger, rounded, and does not break easily. The mushroom variety is said to hold the candy coating better.

How do you make caramel corn? The basic ingredients for making caramel corn are butter/oil, brown sugar, corn syrup, and popcorn. In the past, kernels were heated in a rotary popcorn machine, like an oven that heated the kernels or mixed by hand in the kettle method. Now, the most common modern way for businesses to make classic caramel corn is using a cooker mixer. This piece of equipment allows you to heat and mix a large quantity of popcorn at one time. A number of commercial caramel corn mixes are available, including Gold Medal’s Caramel Corn Treat Concentrate Mix, where you just add sugar, oil, and water. (Watch our How to Make Caramel Corn video here.) In the cooker mixer, the ingredients are heated and then stirred together with the popped popcorn. Once thoroughly mixed, the popcorn is then dumped onto a cooling table where it is stirred and cooled prior to packaging.

How do you make kettle corn? For kettle corn, it is traditionally popped in a large iron or copper kettle that has been oiled. As it is popped, the corn is tossed with a little salt and some sugar for the sweet and salty combination. The commercial process of making kettle corn is now made more convenient with poppers equipped to pop sweet corn and mixes that ensure the consistency of every batch. (Follow our Kettle Corn recipe.)

In addition to these methods, Gold Medal offers other innovative ways you can flavor your popcorn. Glaze Pop® is a special mix that allows you to make flavored popcorn right in the kettle. There is a Frosted Popcorn Mix (similar to Kettle Corn) and Caramel flavored mix. Also, for a shake-on flavoring, try Gold Medal’s Signature Shakes™ Caramel Seasoning.  

caramel corn and kettle corn in clear popcorn bags with printed graphic


If you are considering adding caramel corn or kettle corn to your menu, costs and profitability are key factors. Both have affordable costs per serving, allowing you to set pricing that is attractive to customers and profitable for your business. Profit margins typically average as high as 70-80%, making gourmet popcorn one of the top-performing snacks.

Whether you choose caramel corn, kettle corn, or both, you’ll enjoy key advantages like user-friendly equipment, versatile setup options, and a high-perceived value. To schedule a demonstration to learn more, call us at 800-543-0862 or connect with your nearest Gold Medal dealer.


If you like caramel corn and kettle corn, here are some other topics you may enjoy:


Kettle Corn vs Caramel Corn Video