Since the introduction of hot air popcorn poppers, the argument has waged back and forth. Which type is better, hot air or oil poppers? There’s no quick response to that, other than, “it depends.” The answer lies in matching the unit to your needs.
Let’s start with Capacity. If you are looking for a low capacity popcorn popper, for home use only, there are excellent air and oil popper options, with similar price ranges from $20 to $60. If you need a medium to a high capacity machine, your options for air poppers is reduced. Larger air poppers will make about 18 cups of popped corn per batch, and they do work quickly. But if you prefer not to be reloading the unit as often, your best bet is to choose a larger capacity oil machine.
Turning to performance, hot air poppers tend to pop a slightly higher percentage of kernels than oil poppers. The kernels may heat more uniformly and pop more consistently. Some oil units use a stir rod or paddle, and if that is not functioning properly, uneven heating or even scorching of some kernels may occur. The biggest factor in kernel popping percentage is the quality and freshness of the kernels. When using good, fresh kernels, both oil and air poppers will perform well.
Taste and Health
The bottom line for many is taste. Most agree that corn popped with oil is tastier. But the biggest factor in taste is what you put on the popcorn after it is popped. If eating it plain, then oil popped corn has a definite advantage in taste.
Others are more concerned about eating a healthy snack, and here the advantage goes to air popped poppers – but again, what you put on the popcorn afterward is a larger factor in how healthy the snack will be, just as with other foods. Low-fat oils add a few calories, but far less than a large dose of butter or caramel, for example, or many of the seasonings that are often added. So, if you are using an air popper strictly for health reasons, keep the popcorn fairly plain, with just a dash or sprinkle of your favorite flavoring, if you put anything on it at all. Either way, eating popcorn with even a moderate amount of flavoring is a much healthier snack than fast food or most store bought snacks. Popcorn is naturally healthy, low in calories, and high in fiber. Those qualities make it very attractive as a snack food, or as part of a meal.
When it comes to maintenance, air poppers are decidedly easier to clean. Their construction is typically very simple, and they can be cleaned with a damp cloth or a small amount of soap and water. Oil poppers have more moving parts and oil can be tricky to remove from small spaces. As far as durability goes, it varies from model to model, without respect to the type of popper. Both styles have heating elements, the most common part to fail in poppers. However, the poppers we list on this site are generally well constructed and will deliver durable service.
If you are concerned about safety, there is not much difference in oil or air popper safety. Hot oil can burn, but so can hot air, and both types use heating elements. With either style, using caution and following manufacturer directions should keep you safe.
Knowing what you are looking for will narrow your choices and increase your ability to select a popcorn popper you will enjoy using to produce great tasting, crowd-pleasing, healthy treats!