It’s no secret that the classic snack of cinema, that greasy grub of filmgoers, those buttery bunches of bliss — or popcorn, as we commonly call it — is offered for free at the Willard Straight Hall Resource Center. But who among us has tried every single topping, every single flavor combination that this lobby haven has to offer?
My fellow Cornellians, I have just done so and find myself a changed woman. In order to synthesize that experience, I now provide a definitive ranking of these flavors as follows:
1. the Snickerdoodle
Although I’ve always known this mix of cinnamon, sugar, salt and butter as “Cinsational,” the Snickerdoodle is an equally accurate name for this salty and sweet flavor profile that never fails to make my mouth water. According to manager Rachel Hahn ’20, the cookie-inspired blend is the most popular choice among students. Its variants include the Cinnamon Sugar Mix (simply cinnamon and sugar) and “the Pumpkindoodle,” which combines the Snickerdoodle with pumpkin spice.
2. savory nutritional yeast, a.k.a. “Nooch”
While others may argue that it tastes like armpit dust, nutritional yeast holds a special place in my heart. This vaguely cheesy and very much healthy topping pushes the boundaries of what popcorn should taste like — it’s modern, and it’s here to stay. It can also be found in the Cheesy Bread, which mixes the beloved Nooch with salt and butter.
3. Spice of Life
What better way to spice up your life than with this blend of curry, cardamom, cinnamon, paprika and sugar? If you’re in the mood for something spicy but not overwhelmingly so, take a chance on this hit.
4. the Garlic Bread
This combination takes the flavor of its namesake and combines it with the crunchiness of popcorn, the result of which is a snack that leaves you wanting more. For a slightly more layered flavor profile, try the Garlic Bread with Cheese, which consists of garlic powder, salt, butter and nutritional yeast. Or if you want some real cheese, get it with parmesan, which Hahn says is usually only offered during finals.
5. Whipped Dream
Although you won’t find this flavor combo on the Popcorn Directory at the Resource Center, it’s well worth a try. Conceptualized by manager-in-training Jake Ortega ’21, the Whipped Dream takes the sweetness of the Cinnamon Sugar Mix a step further through the addition of whipped cream. While I was there, crew member Hassaan Bin Sabir ’21 tried it and enjoyed every spoonful. For anyone with a sweet tooth, this secret item is a revelation.
6. the Abomination
Despite its off-putting name, the spice scholars at the Resource Center tell me that this combo has its adherents, and I can see why. While I initially thought that sprinkling every topping available on the directory was a mistake, I eventually came around. Every bite I took was new and different, yet none of the bites I took were offensive at all. If you’re the adventurous type, this might just be up your alley.
7. dulse flakes
Made from red seaweed, these flakes are both veggie and fishy. Some even contest that they not only resemble but also taste like bacon. Either way, this topping comes at the bottom of my list (even though I appreciate its flavor) because it’s a little too large for its base. Instead of staying on the snack, they fall to the bottom of the bag and can only be enjoyed after mouthfuls of sad, plain popcorn.
8. the Classic
While Hahn informed me that this butter and salt mixture is the second most requested combination, I have a hard time believing it can be all that fulfilling when there are so many other amazing blends available. Nonetheless, it’s the type of popcorn most of us grew up eating, and it stands to reason that it’s a fan favorite.
9. chili pepper
Like the dulse flakes, the chili pepper flakes fall to the bottom of the bag. Unlike the dulse flakes, the chili pepper flakes are far from pleasant. They simply sting and make you thirstier than popcorn already does.
With all these experimental flavors, there’s plenty of popcorn to look forward to trying this semester, but these free kernels of maize contain more than puffy starch — they’re also the medium through which the Resource Center connects with students.
According to Campus Activities Program Assistant Linda Siptrott, popcorn has been served at Willard Straight Hall since long before the Resource Center came to be. The center’s predecessor, an information desk that provided snacks and school supplies since the building’s opening in 1925, began selling popcorn about 20 years ago.
Less than 10 years ago, the founding of the Resource Center prompted Campus Activities to provide the snack free of charge, which Siptrott says is a vehicle through which students are welcomed into and can engage with the center. The free popcorn acts as an icebreaker of sorts, helping to create a sense of community. In the words of Ortega, “Our family never stops growing.”