The quick answer to the question is that it depends on the movie theater chain you go to.
Classic movie theater popcorn is often butter-flavored, so you may wonder if this means it contains dairy and is therefore not vegan-friendly. However, the butter flavoring in movie theaters is almost always artificial, meaning it does not contain dairy.
There is some debate within the vegan community on whether unknown artificial flavors (such as the artificial butter flavoring) can be considered vegan-friendly, as they may contain trace amounts of animal products without the consumer knowing.
Whether you trust the artificial butter flavoring or not, here are all of the details about the popcorn offered at the major movie theater chains.
AMC confirms in their allergen info that all of their regular popcorn with no butter does not contain any dairy products or other non-vegan-friendly ingredients. However, the butter seasoning does contain a small amount of milk in the form of butter.
The company states that you can request to not have the seasoning added to your popcorn. All of the popcorn is popped in the same area, so if you are avoiding dairy due to a serious allergy, it is recommended that you avoid this product.
If you do not have an allergy and don’t mind trace amounts of dairy, you can eat regular popcorn at AMC.
All of AMC’s specialty popcorns do contain non-vegan ingredients, such as their caramel corn and cheddar corn. Their specialty popcorns are not considered vegan-friendly.
Conclusion: Regular popcorn with no butter seasoning is vegan-friendly.
Regal Cinemas has only given nutrition and allergen information through a company tweet in 2018. In this tweet, they stated that all of the ingredients in their popcorn should be vegan-friendly, but clarified in a later tweet that this varies from theater to theater.
Some people have reported that the butter topping used at some theaters does contain dairy and is not vegan-friendly.
Conclusion: Check with your local theater about their nutrition and allergen info.
Cinemark states that their popcorn salt “may contain dairy.” You can request that they pop your popcorn without the salt.
If you are avoiding non-vegan ingredients due to a serious allergy, theaters recommend to avoid the popcorn entirely. All of the popcorn is prepared in the same area and is subject to cross-contamination.
If you do not have an allergy and don’t mind trace amounts of dairy, you can choose to have the popcorn made without the salt or with the salt. Without the salt, you may be consuming trace amounts of dairy from cross-contamination. If the popcorn is prepapred with the salt, you may be consuming trace amounts of dairy present in the salt itself.
Cinemark has two different butter toppings. The first is the Butter Topping made with Anhydrognous Butterfat and contains dairy. The second choice is the Butter Flavored Topping, which does not contain dairy or other non-vegan ingredients.
Conclusion: Regular popcorn with no popcorn salt and either no topping or the “Butter Flavored Topping” is vegan-friendly.