Vegan Caramel Popcorn Ant Hills

Growing up in a small town had it’s benefits.

#1 – We knew everyone.

#2 – When it came time for Halloween and we received homemade treats while trick-or-treating, we were allowed to eat them.

I remember the first Halloween we spent in the big city. Mom and Dad decided to move us ON Halloween so they dropped us off at our Aunt’s house and she took us trick-or-treating in a community right outside of downtown Calgary. I went as a hippie. It was weird. Not the costume; I made the costume and it was awesome, but the fact that we didn’t know anyone, we didn’t get nearly as much candy as we would have back home, and when it came time to sort through our loot, our Aunt removed all of the homemade candy.

That included the popcorn balls.

Those sweet, sweet popcorn balls.

A couple of years after that, I learned that I was allergic to dairy and I never ate another popcorn ball again.

Oh the tragedy of it all.

A life without caramel corn, popcorn balls, candy corn popcorn, chocolate popcorn… it was all off limits.

Plus, dude… do you know how much refined sugars are in those things? I didn’t realize until I started planning this recipe. Although my cleaner version still has quite a bit of sugar, it’s no where near as crazy as the classic caramel popcorn ball recipe.

And hey, my version has raisins…rrr creepy, crawly ants.

They’re considered a fruit, right?

print, email or text this recipe

4.7 from 3 reviews
Vegan Caramel Popcorn Ant Hills
Recipe type: Vegan, Gluten-free, Dairy-free, Refined sugar-free, Yeast-free, Grain-free, Nut-free
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 8
Vegan and gluten-free caramel popcorn balls made with just 6 clean-eating ingredients and could just be mistaken for creepy-crawly ant hills.
  1. Place popcorn and raisins in a large bowl. Set aside.
  2. Add remaining ingredients to a small saucepan and bring to a boil on medium heat, stirring constantly.
  3. Reduce heat to a simmer and continue to simmer until thick, about 3 minutes. Any more than this and the mixture will become taffy-like and be impossible to work with. You want to remove it from the heat just before it begins to smell charred or burnt.
  4. Remove from heat and quickly drizzle over popcorn mixture.
  5. You have to work quick with this next step, but avoid being burned by the hot sugar mix. Fluff it around with your hands until most is covered, then when it's cooled slightly (a couple of seconds is all it needs), begin to work into balls.
  6. Press mixture firmly together, the sugar is very sticky so it will stick, you just have to press it together.
  7. If there are extra raisins at the bottom of the bowl afterward, wedge them into the sides of the balls.

    For those sensitive to corn, popped sorghum can be used in it’s place.

    You have to work quick with this recipe. I wish I could have taken process pictures to demonstrate how it works, but there was just no time. The caramel hardens really fast so you just have to drizzle on while shaking the bowl and do your best not to burn your hands.

    There will be leftover bits at the bottom of the bowl. I had about 1 cup of popcorn that just didn’t have enough caramel on it to make another ball but there was still enough that I could put it in a bowl and snack on it for the afternoon!

    If you’re not attached to the whole popcorn ball thing you could decrease the sugar mixture by half and just drizzle the hot mixture on your popcorn, toss it around a bit and indulge in a bowl of caramel corn. Kevin and I made some for snack last night and it was deeelicious. Although I didn’t get much of it. Kevin loves caramel popcorn!

    Pin It

    Comments | Leave Your Comment

    1. Now these are super super cute!! I don’t actually ever remember getting homemade Halloween treats when we went trick or treating as kids, but like you suggested, it’s probably because I grew up in Edmonton and we didn’t really know everyone whose houses we went to in our neighbourhood. We’d make homemade Halloween treats for ourselves though, and I wish I’d known about your popcorn balls back then!

    2. You deserve a Nobel prize for this – I AM OBSESSED WITH POPCORN BALLS!!!!! <- Can you hear me yelling all the way from Alberta?! Remember those fun little jellies in some recipes?

    3. For those of us allergic to corn, this could also be made with kamut puffs (if you tolerate it) or popped sorghum. I tried popped sorghum yesterday for the first time. The bag was on the expensive side (Whole Foods expensive!) but it satisfied a popcorn craving! :-)

      • Thank you for mentioning this, Jillian! I’ll edit the post to include it.

    4. Super cute! My son’s 6th birthday is next week & of course, it’s going to be Halloween themed. I’m totally adding this to the menu!

      Also, Jillian mentioned popped sorghum–is it in a bag that you microwave pop? Never heard of it.

      • I found the popped sorghum pre-popped in a bag at Whole Foods. It was $3.99 for a 3oz bag. Kinda pricy I know! In my research, I found that you can order “popping sorghum” by the pound online on Amazon. This would be like the popcorn kernels that you have to pop yourself. I haven’t ordered any yet so I can’t speak to the quality.

        Hope that helps!

      • Fun! I would have loved to have a Halloween-themed birthday. How awesome is that? Sheesh!

    5. I love the idea of healthier Hallowe’en treats! I’ve been brainstorming about some sort of special Hallowe’en dinner and I’m trying to come up with something healthy (to balance out all the candy to come after dinner!) that’s fun but not too spooky. I considered making wild black rice and calling it spider’s legs, but I think the kids wouldn’t actually eat it :) I can’t wait to see what you have coming up this week!

      • I’m planning a Halloween dinner recipe that’s really, really kid friendly. I’ll be posting it next week so stay tuned!

      • Thanks Marla! I’m having too much fun with this Halloween event. Thanks for sharing it :)

    6. leanne- I made those macaroons last night and they. are. so. GOOD. I actually used a real egg instead of chia because I only had whole seeds and no way to grind them. now I’m wondering if they could be made with pumpkin…or chocolate chips…… look what you did to me! :)

      • Oh yes, that’s brilliant. I bet they could be done with pumpkin, for sure. Hmm I’ve created a macaroon monster!

    7. Ooooh, Leanne! Adding maple syrup to popcorn balls is true genius! When I was a kid, a neighbor made the best popcorn balls that didn’t just taste like sugar, using a special, very secret ingredient–a black liquid in a mason jar that she hid from view. I managed to sneak near enough to see the jar one time when she’d insisted that my cousin and I wait in the dining room while she made the treat as the boiling syrup was too dangerous for us kids to be around. I just had to know what that secret ingredient was, but it was decades before I suddenly thought of adding maple syrup (grade B) to popcorn balls. Edna’s mother had insisted that the recipe be shared only with family, so she never gave it to me. I’d tried various recipes, but none were even slightly close to hers. By the time I had my brainstorm, about using grade B maple syrup, both dear Edna, as well as my dearest cousin, Carolyn, had passed. But eating those popcorn balls brought back the wonderful memories of doing some task for Edna that would result in her making one of her special treats for us. Thank you for this recipe which brings to mind such a wonderful time.

    8. I am just wondering about what nuts would be acceptable to add to make more of a “poppycock”. Ive just started cooking and eating with some restrictions, so still figuring out what is acceptable. My kidlets luv their grandma’s poppycock, so was hoping to give them a healthier alternative.

      • Hmm I’m sure you could use any type of nut or seed. Hemp seeds may be a nice healthy touch, as would slivered almonds!

    9. Hi. I was desperate for a vegan, gluten free, refined sugar free treat for my daughter’s science class tomorrow and thought I was saved by this recipe. However, I’ve tried twice now and the popcorn will not stick together at all. I have never made popcorn balls before, so it’s probably me. The syrup just reverts back to granular form and the popcorn separates. It still tastes great and I’ll probably just send it in separate bags or something, but… it’s disappointing. Any ideas? I cooked the syrup until everything was dissolved and it had thickened.

      • Hi Jamie – was the syrup mixture boiling? It has to bubble for at least 2-3 minutes to form into the taffy that will hold together. Hoping that that’s what going on here, that you’re not heating it well enough.

    10. I am going to make these popcorn balls. I remember as kids we used to get a lot of homemade treats and popcorn balls were good and the dyed colored popcorn also. No more dyes for me though. Thanks

      • Wow, I’ve never seen them dyed different colors, how cool! Enjoy the treat, Chris :)

    11. Hi there!

      I am super excited to make these for my potluck tomorrow, I just had two questions!

      If I make these in the morning will they still be nice and fresh by evening time? What is the best way to store them? I just don’t want them tasting stale!

      Should they be refrigerated before serving?

      Thanks so much!

      • Hi Becca – I believe when I made these, I kept them in paper bags in the fridge. I hope that helps!

    12. THANK YOU, for this recipe, Leanne! I just made these with my kids to take to a Halloween party tonight. They came out great and were so easy to make. I’m sure they’ll be a big hit!

      For others making this recipe, make sure that once you get to the “simmer 3 minutes” portion, DO NOT STIR it at all. If you stir it, it will become granulated again when it cools and not stick well. I remember this from my maple-candy-making days, so I applied that rule to this and the caramel came out perfectly smooth, gooey, and sticky.

      • Wow, that’s such an awesome tip, thanks Janet! I’m so happy that you liked the recipe. Have a FUN party!

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    Rate this recipe: