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Some of the most common questions I get in our keto support group are , “is popcorn keto friendly?”, “can I eat popcorn on keto?”, or “how many carbs in popcorn?” I get it! This is one keto snack that’s hard to replace. So, what to do when you’re craving a keto popcorn alternative? This keto cheese puffs recipe comes to the rescue! It’s got the salty, buttery, cheesy flavors that we love in popcorn, airy texture, major crunch, and a boost of protein!
Puffed cheese might not be exactly the same thing as popcorn, but it’s an awesome keto popcorn replacement that will satisfy those cravings in a clean way.
Is Popcorn Keto Friendly?
Unfortunately, popcorn is not keto compliant. The carbs in popcorn are simply too high to enjoy it regularly. In addition, there are a few other elements as well that make it best to avoid popcorn on a keto diet.
Can you eat popcorn on keto?
You might get away with eating very small amounts of popcorn on keto, but it would be a “dirty keto” option because of the way corn is produced:
- The vast majority of corn crops are genetically modified [*] and sprayed with herbicides like glyphosate, which the FDA has labeled a possible carcinogen [*].
- Even if you chose organic and non-GMO varieties, popcorn is primarily made of carbohydrates and popcorn carbs are still too high to call it a truly keto food. (See which foods are keto friendly in the keto food list, or the keto vegetables list.)
Does popcorn have carbs?
Yes, popcorn has carbs! In fact, it’s primarily made up of carbs… and air. 😉 It also has a little bit of fiber, which reduces its net carbs, but total carbs are still fairly high.
How many carbs in popcorn?
How many carbs in popcorn, exactly? A single cup of plain, popped popcorn has 6.2 grams total carbs and 5.1 grams of net carbs [*].
That doesn’t sound like much, but here’s why it’s best to avoid popcorn on keto:
- A serving is a lot more than one cup. In fact, the USDA says a serving of popcorn is 5 cups [*]! Some labels use different quantities, but it’s always multiple cups, and with good reason. If you like popcorn, it’s hard to eat just one cup.
- Popcorn is mostly carbs. The other factor to consider when it comes to popcorn and keto is the distribution of macros. Even if popcorn is airy, almost all the calories in popcorn come from carbohydrates.
Is there a keto popcorn substitute?
Okay, no popcorn on keto… so what should you have instead? This keto puffed cheese recipe makes a decent keto popcorn alternative! It still has the crunch and buttery flavor of popcorn, and dramatically cuts the carbs.
How To Make Keto Popcorn
When you need the best popcorn for keto, these white cheddar cheese puffs are it! Here’s how to make them:
- Arrange small cheese cubes on parchment paper. Be sure the pieces are uniformly 1/2-inch in size, and at least 1-2 inches apart.
- Bake at low temp very briefly. This step is optional, but if you want a more rounded keto popcorn with more air in it, it’s recommended. It takes just a couple of minutes for the cheese starts to melt to form round edges but not spread too far. Remove from oven and while cheese is still warm, use a small spatula or fingers to push the edges inward a bit if the cheese spread too much. Cool completely.
- Air dry for 3 days. This is the hardest part – the waiting! Cover the cheese pieces with a paper towel and leave out on the counter for 3 full days, until they are completely hard. The time will vary depending on the humidity in your kitchen. If they are rubbery, they need more time!
- Pop cheese puffs. Bake again briefly, this time at a higher temperature, until the cheese puffs up. Watch closely to make sure they don’t burn! Remove immediately once most pieces are puffed up.
- Make corn-flavored butter topping. Stir together melted butter-flavored coconut oil (or plain butter) and corn extract.
- Toss keto popcorn with toppings. Right before serving your homemade cheese puffs, toss baked cheese puffs in the oil mixture…
…Then toss again with white cheddar cheese powder.
Tips For Making Keto Cheese Puffs
Keto friendly popcorn isn’t difficult, but it does require some special techniques to ensure that your cheese can pop properly. Be sure to follow these tips:
1. Cut the cheese into uniform cubes.
For consistent keto cheese puffs, the cheese pieces must all be the same size – including width, depth and height. This helps them cook evenly and also ensures they won’t flatten too much.
2. Place cheese pieces tall side up.
If your cubes have a slightly longer side, place them so that they are the tallest they can be. This will make the puffiest result.
3. Melt cheese slightly before drying for the best shape.
The optional step of melting the cheese slightly first is not required, but makes more rounded keto popcorn and also helps it puff up more than the regular cubes do.
I highly recommend this step, but do watch closely during initial melting! You want to just barely round the edges, but if the cheese melts into a completely flat puddle, it likely won’t puff up later.
If the cheese melts too much, you’ll get cheese crisps instead of cheese puffs. Crisps are still delicious, but not the greatest keto popcorn substitute!
4. Make sure the cheese dries fully.
The most critical part is for the cheese to dry fully. If it’s rubbery at all, it needs more time to dry.
The optional step of melting the cheese slightly first is not required, but makes more rounded keto popcorn AND also helps it puff up more than the regular cubes do. You’ll still need to dry the cheese fully after the optional melting step.
5. Use butter-flavored coconut oil for topping keto popcorn.
It’s strange, but I found that butter flavored coconut oil actually had a stronger buttery flavor than plain butter does. You can use either one, but I recommend the butter flavored coconut oil for this reason.
6. Only add toppings right before eating.
Coating your keto popcorn in butter or oil will make the cheese puffs soften with time, making them rubbery instead of crunchy. And without the butter, any seasoning or cheese powder won’t stick. So for best results, add toppings only when ready to eat.
Keto Friendly Popcorn FAQs
Do cheese puffs really taste like popcorn?
This keto popcorn recipe is a great way to enjoy popcorn on keto diet – without actually eating popcorn!
Like some of the low carb/keto recipes we come up with, this is not going to taste exactly like, or have the same texture as, traditional popcorn.
With that said, these white cheddar cheese puffs are sure to bust through any popcorn craving. The flavor is remarkable, you get crunch and airiness in every bite, and the topping adds a ton of flavor that’s just like popcorn.
Is it okay to leave cheese out on the counter for 3 days?
According to the USDA, hard cheeses like the provolone we are using to make these white cheddar cheese puffs actually don’t require refrigeration. They are usually refrigerated so that they last longer, but it’s not actually required. Especially without added moisture (we are drying out the cheese), it won’t spoil or mold in 3 days.
Can you use a dehydrator or microwave for making keto friendly popcorn?
Unfortunately, a dehydrator does not work very well for drying the cheese. I’ve tried! It darkens too much and for some reason does not puff up.
I have not tested puffing the keto cheese puffs at the end using a microwave. Let me know how it goes if you try it.
How many carbs in keto popcorn?
This baked cheese puffs recipe has just 1.2 grams net carbs per serving. It’s a much better way to have popcorn on keto, even if it’s not quite the same thing.
Does puffed cheese work with all kinds of cheese?
You can make easy cheese puffs with other types of hard cheese. Good choices are cheddar or gouda – I have made this keto popcorn recipe with both of these with success.
If you try a different type of cheese, let me know how it goes!
Avoid soft cheeses, like mozzarella or brie. They have too much moisture to puff up.
So, why did I choose provolone? Because it has the most neutral flavor and will still puff up. Provolone makes the closest thing to “authentic” keto popcorn because the flavor of the cheese is not overpowering, and the flavor of the toppings can shine instead.
Are the keto popcorn toppings necessary?
If you want this popcorn keto snack to taste as closely to popcorn as possible, then yes! Absolutely use the butter-flavored coconut oil, sweet corn extract, and white cheddar cheese powder. It gives the keto popped cheese amazing popcorn flavor.
However, if you just want to make an easy puffed cheese recipe, feel free to use any hard cheese (as mentioned above) and skip the toppings.
Puffed Cheese Storage Instructions
Can you make puffed cheese ahead?
Yes, you can make keto cheese popcorn ahead and you just might want to have a batch constantly going… because it’s slightlyyy addicting! Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
How to store keto popcorn
Store your white cheddar cheese puffs in an airtight container for 3-4 days at room temperature. For best results, don’t add the topping until you are about to eat.
More Easy Keto Movie Snacks
I know it’s disappointing that the answer to “can you have popcorn on the keto diet?” is a sad “no”. But, I hope this cheese puffs recipe is a decent replacement. If you like it, you might also like some of these other keto snacks:
- Keto Crackers – Two ingredient and ultra buttery.
- Hard Boiled Eggs – A hefty dose of protein and major flavor that’s a favorite – keto or not.
- Pepperoni Chips – ONE ingredient is all you need for these crunchy chips.
- Cauliflower Hummus – I bet you thought hummus was off-limits! Not with this sneaky version.
- Keto Soft Pretzels – These taste like the real thing! Dip them in mustard or eat them plain – either way they are delicious.
Tools To Make Keto Popcorn:
Click the links below to see the items used to make this recipe.
There are definitely a few ingredients that take this keto cheese puffs recipe to the next level:
- Sweet Corn Extract – This little bottle is what gives this keto cheese puffs recipe its popcorn flavor. It’s also used in my keto cornbread recipe!
- White Cheddar Cheese Powder – This powder is slightly magical…and can also be used for cheese sauces, crackers, and more!
Reader Fave Keto Recipes
The recipe card is below! Readers also made these similar recipes after making this one.
Keto Popcorn (Cheese Puffs Recipe)
Is popcorn keto? Learn why not, and how to make this keto popcorn recipe instead. You'll be surprised how well these keto cheese puffs (a.k.a. puffed cheese) replace the carbs in popcorn on a keto diet.
Recipe VideoClick or tap on the image below to play the video. It's the easiest way to learn how to make this recipe!
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RECIPE TIPS + VIDEO in the post above, nutrition info + recipe notes below!
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Optional Step For Rounded Keto Popcorn:
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F (148 degrees C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Arrange the 1/2-inch cheese pieces on the parchment paper, at least an inch apart. Bake for about 2-4 minutes, until the cheese pieces start to slightly melt to form rounded edges, but do not spread too far.
Remove from the oven. While the cheese is still warm, use a small spatula or your fingers to push the edges inward a bit if the cheese spread too much. The pieces should be round and thicker than typical sliced cheese.
Basic Keto Cheese Puffs:
Cover the cheese pieces with a paper towel and leave on the counter for at least 3 full days, until they are completely hard. (Squeeze them to check if they are ready - if they are at all rubbery, they need more time!)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (176 degrees C). Remove the paper towel and place the pan into the oven for 4-5 minutes, until the cheese pieces puff up. Watch closely to avoid burning. Remove immediately once most pieces are puffed up.
Cool the cheese puffs completely to get crisp.
Keto Popcorn Topping:
Right before serving, in a small bowl, whisk together the butter flavored coconut oil or plain butter and corn extract.
Toss the keto popcorn with the corn flavored butter mixture. Sprinkle with white cheddar cheese powder and toss again.
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Serving size: 12 pieces, or 1/4 entire recipe
Video Showing How To Make Keto Popcorn:
Don't miss the VIDEO above - it's the easiest way to learn how to make Keto Popcorn!
Nutrition Information Per Serving
Where does nutrition info come from? Nutrition facts are provided as a courtesy, sourced from the USDA Food Database. You can find individual ingredient carb counts we use in the Low Carb & Keto Food List. Net carb count excludes fiber, erythritol, and allulose, because these do not affect blood sugar in most people. (Learn about net carbs here.) We try to be accurate, but feel free to make your own calculations.
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