If you have trouble making up your mind in the face of lengthy menus, you may want to avoid the latest trend in the world of popcorn: flavors by the dozens. No longer can you just walk up to just any popcorn stand and order ''a bag of popcorn.'' In a growing number of shops around the South and other parts of the country, be prepared to decide between such taste-bud teasers as apricot, watermelon, and zesty buttermilk-flavored popcorn.
You can still get a bag, but the sales pitch in some shops is on cans - many of them hand-painted, none of them cheap. In an outlet here of the Corn Popper, a Texas-based franchise of shops selling flavored popcorn, prices ranges from 50 cents for a sample bag of plain popcorn to $42 for a 16-gallon can of chocolate peanut butter popcorn.
The place looks more like a can store than a popcorn shop. But on the counter are display bins of some of the flavors, with little trays so you can pour out a few kernels and see what you like.
''With 32 flavors, there's one there you're going to like,'' says store manager Clara White. (This reporter sampled about 20 flavors and found that they really tasted like what their names indicated: sour cream and cheese, strawberry , taco, peanut butter, bacon and egg, and others.)
The Corn Popper has about 40 franchise stores operating in Texas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Ohio, Colorado, and California, and plans to open another 20 to 40 this year, a company employee says.
Tom Lang gave up selling chocolate chip cookies to open three of his own flavored-popcorn outlets, O. G. Popcorn, in Atlanta last year. Among some of his big sellers: cheddar and bacon, Parmesan, bubble gum, and jellybean.
''When we started, people said: 'What is this?' '' Mr. Lang says.
Apparently people are finding out. His company is also beginning to sell franchises.
In Manhattan, some commuters are buying flavored popcorn at Jack's Corn Crib in Penn Station and eating it on the train going home. The company, which began last fall, has three other outlets in the city and plans to have some 100 franchises operating by the end of next year, says Jerry Hammer, partner in the firm with actor Jack Klugman (of ''The Odd Couple'' and ''Quincy'').
But if flavors don't grab you, you're not alone. One of the regulars at a flavored-popcorn outlet here is David Robinson. His choice: plain, unsalted.