Dairy Free Allergy Friendly Caramel Popcorn
This past weekend was my middle son Gabriel’s 7th birthday. I have a tradition in the house that the night before your birthday, after you have gone to sleep, the “Birthday Fairies” come and decorate the house in whatever theme you ask for. Gabriel is a massive baseball fan like his mom and dad and has been playing for three years now. It came as no shock when he asked the “Fairies” for a New York Yankees/baseball park birthday for the house and our family party. Done! I started to plan the party and decided to go a little extra because it’s the first time we can really all safely get together in over a year now! I wanted to throw some fun baseball stadium treats in there and that’s where I got the idea for safe “Cracker Jack”. I asked Gabriel about it, and he loved the idea but being the amazing brother that he is, the first thing he asked was, “Can you make it safe for Casey?”. Love 🥰!
Caramel corn is a tricky little bugger if you don’t know just a few little steps to make it. Other than that, it’s so easy! This is a fun time of year to make it as Little League is winding down and it’s a great safe offering for any boys or girls that have food allergies or dietary restrictions. I also tested it using coconut sugar and honey for those who want refined sugar free.
Have a great Memorial Day weekend, Gang! Be safe and well and remember life is short so eat dessert first…safely!! 💙👩🏻🍳
**As always, please check which brands are safe for your needs**
Ingredients and Substitutions
Popcorn – As the main component of this treat it’s up to you which safe brand you use. You can pop your own (Jolly Time kernels are safe for Casey) or buy plain or lightly salted air popped corn. DO NOT get flavored. Although Casey is allergic to sunflower, he tolerates refined oil and loves Skinny Pop. I buy giant bags at BJ’s to make this. It’s your choice! You’ll need 10 cups of POPPED popcorn.
Butter/Vegan Butter – I tested this using regular butter, vegan butter, margarine and coconut oil and the only one I wasn’t totally crazy about was coconut oil only because the caramel stays just a tad greasy. However, it absolutely works if this is your choice!! It’s still delicious.
Sugar – Light brown sugar is the choice here. Regular granulated sugar will not give you the same flavor as it would need to cook for much longer to get the same effect. I tried it just as an experiment and the flavor was just too sweet-it was missing the underbite from the acid in the brown sugar. If you want a very rich flavor, you can use dark brown sugar. I also tested it using coconut sugar and it makes a very dark caramel and can burn easily so be careful!
Invert sugar-Corn syrup or Honey – An invert sugar (in lay terms) is a liquid form of sugar. Corn syrup, honey, agave, and brown rice syrup are examples. Traditionally a caramel corn uses light corn syrup, which is my choice. I tested this with honey as well for those who prefer not to use corn syrup and would rather be refined sugar free. As with using coconut sugar, the danger of using honey is that is burns quickly and is quite sweet but absolutely an option.
Add-Ins – If peanuts are a safe option, you can make this Cracker Jack style and add them in, or any other type of nuts you’d like. Casey can have peanuts, so I add shelled Hampton Farms peanuts-there is no tree nut cross contamination. Make sure the nuts are NOT salted or roasted. After the caramel popcorn is done, you can dust it with sprinkles or drizzle with chocolate. Have fun with it!
**As always, please check which brands are safe for your needs.**
Dairy Free Allergy Friendly Caramel Popcorn
Author: Katie Martino Lopez
Prep Time: 10 minutes (if not popping corn)
Bake Time: about 30-40 minutes
Total Time: about 45 minutes-1 hour
Yield: 10 cups caramel popcorn
- 10 cups 4.25 oz./117 g) unflavored POPPED popcorn (lightly salted is ok)
- 8 Tbls. (4 oz/110 g.) vegan or regular butter or coconut oil
- ¼ c. (2 oz./55 g.) light corn syrup (honey or brown syrup can be used, see notes above)
- 1 ¼ c. (7 oz./200 g) light brown sugar
- ½ – ¾ tsp salt, depending on taste (omit if popcorn is lightly salted)
- IF SAFE – 1 c. (8 oz./150 g.) unsalted shelled peanuts or other nuts
- Sprinkles or melted chocolate to decorate if desired
- Pop popcorn if not buying premade. Put popped popcorn (bought or homemade) and any nuts if you are using in a large bowl and set aside.
- Preheat oven to 300 degrees and prep a large sheet pan with parchment paper or a silicone mat.
- In a small heavy bottom pot (try not to use a thin pot, like aluminum, or it has a higher chance of burning), place safe butter, then light brown sugar, salt and corn syrup. Heat on low heat until melted, stirring often, then turn up to medium high.
- Boil mixture for 3 minutes, no more or it will burn! Stir often and be careful not to splash, especially if using coconut oil because it doesn’t mix in the same way! Use a wooden spoon or silicone spatula as this mixture is very hot and those utensils are poor heat conductors. Be careful not to overcook! Burned caramel will be very dark and taste very bitter. PLEASE SEE NOTES ABOVE ABOUT USING COCONUT SUGAR AND HONEY.
- BEING CAREFUL NOT TO SPILL-IT IS VERY HOT-immediately pour caramel over popcorn and mix VERY quickly, combining as best as you can. The caramel sets up quickly. Pour onto the prepared sheet pan.
- Immediately put in the preheated oven and bake for approximately 30-40 minutes, stirring caramel corn every 10 minutes.
- Remove from heat and if using sprinkles, add now. Cool on a wire rack.
- Store at room temperature (DO NOT refrigerate!) in a very airtight container for 3-4 days. Caramel corn can be quickly recrisped in a low oven. NOTE– The caramel corn is very susceptible to moisture and will get softer faster on hot, humid days.
- Caramel corn is best made soon before it is needed (ex. same day or night before). Store only at room temperature in a very airtight container.
- Please read the Ingredients and Substitutions to see your safe options and how they might affect the recipe.
- Don’t be intimiated to try this! You’ll never believe how easy it is!
As we all know, reading labels and preparing food when managing allergies is a job within itself with much responsibility. All the brands I use are ones that I have contacted, and Casey has eaten safely. That being said, I must remind…
Please do your own research when deciding which products and foods are safe for the allergies you manage. These are the ones that are safe for our needs but may not be for you. Everyone has different comfort levels with manufacturing and production procedures.
And, as a friendly reminder, always have 2 epinephrine auto injectors on hand!