A caramel popcorn taste test

Special to the Tampa Bay TimesJuly 2, 2013 

Eating through a bag of sweet popcorn stuck together with peanuts and sugary caramel is the perfect way to celebrate America’s independence. And there are plenty of options besides the classic Cracker Jacks. Our panelists found five brands of caramel-coated treats to consider for their Fourth of July picnics. Product scores are out of 100.

Crunch ‘n Munch: 87

Judges’ comments: Light and airy popcorn bathed in buttery, caramel-flavored sugar was the hallmark of this treat. “This is what caramel corn is all about,” said one panelist. “The fresh, light caramel glaze clumps the corn together in heavenly knots of chewy goodness,” said another. Judges preferred the Crunch ‘n Munch because it wasn’t overly sweet and the popcorn was extra fluffy.

Would they buy? All four judges said yes.

Shopping information: $1 for a 6-ounce box from Wal-Mart.

Serving size: Two-thirds cup.

Calories: 160.

Fat/fiber: 8g/1g.

Sugars/sodium: 11g/100mg.

Carbs/protein: 20g/2g.

Quaker Popped Rice Snacks: 70

Judges’ comments: Although Quaker’s caramel-coated option was made with popped rice instead of corn, judges really enjoyed the flavor. “The little round discs of rice cake are very, very crunchy and not overly sweet,” said one. The nutritionist on our panel liked the healthier option of this “unique spin on a traditional caramel popcorn.” These munchies had a slight salt in the flavor as well. “They are a puffed wafer with a delicious candy coating that is more caramel-y than sweet,” said another. “This is a balanced confection of crunch and flavor.”

Would they buy? All four judges said yes.

Shopping information: $2 for a 3.5-ounce bag from Sweetbay.

Serving size: 13 cakes.

Calories: 110.

Fat/fiber: 0.5g/1g.

Sugars/sodium: 9g/310mg.

Carbs/protein: 26g/1g.

Cracker Jack: 69

Judges’ comments: No list of favorites would be complete without the traditional Cracker Jack brand. “This is the all-American snack,” said one judge. “This caramel corn is best munched by the handful in an outfield seat.” The maple flavor of these popped kernels was a familiar and pleasant treat for judges. “I’d recognize this anywhere,” said one panelist. “Yummy!”

Would they buy? Three of the four judges said yes.

Shopping information: $1.49 for a 4.5-ounce bag from Publix.

Serving size: Half cup.

Calories: 120.

Fat/fiber: 2g/1g.

Sugars/sodium: 15g/70mg.

Carbs/protein: 23g/2g.

Also Sampled: Pop Weaver ($1 for a 7-ounce bag from Wal-Mart, 42 points) and Orville Redenbacher’s Poppy Cock ($2.99 for a 7-ounce bag from Sweetbay, 60 points).

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