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The 6 types of corn
The 6 types of Corn
Sweet Corn is also called “sugar corn” because of its high natural sugar content. The result of a natural genetic mutation in field corn, it was grown by many Native American tribes, and was first introduced to European settlers in 1779.In order to get juicy kernels, sweet corn is picked while it is still immature, before the sugar has been converted to starch. Once picked, the husk and silk are removed in a process known as “shucking,” then the ears are boiled, steamed, roasted or otherwise prepared to be eaten!
In Latin America, sweet corn is paired with beans, in Indonesia it is soaked with milk, in Europe and many Asian countries it is a common pizza topping, and in the US it is steamed and served with butter and salt. Forget to harvest your sweet corn in its infant stages? No worries—if the kernels are left to dry on the plant, they can be removed and cooked in oil (similar to popcorn), where they expand to twice their size and are known as “corn nuts.”
Did you know? When sweet corn is paired with lima beans, the dish is called “succotash.” Succotash was a popular meal during the Great Depression because of the low cost of the vegetables.
Dent corn is the proper term for what many refer to as “field corn.” It has a higher starch content, and is therefore less sweet and juicy. Each ripe kernel has a small indentation at the crown—hence the name. Despite the fact that it is usually harvested to feed animals, dent corn is also the kind of corn used in food manufacturing, namely for cornmeal flour and foods such as corn chips, tortillas and taco shells. It’s also the base for high-fructose corn syrup, which is used in processed foods and soft drinks. While sweet corn is harvested and eaten as a vegetable, dent corn is consumed as a grain or used as fodder for animals. Most of the corn grown in the US is yellow dent corn!
Did you know? Almost 93% of the dent corn grown in the US is used as animal fodder.
This type of corn has even less soft starch than the dent corn, and is therefore even harder! It is said to be as hard as flint, which is where the name comes from. Commonly called “Indian corn” or “calico corn,” it is known for having varying kernel colors that range from red and orange to blue and purple. While it is often used for decoration (particularly in the fall around the time of Thanksgiving) because of its aesthetic nature, the kernels can be used to make “hominy,” a popular dish in the Americas. Hominy is made by drying, soaking and cooking the kernels in a process known as “nixtamalization.” From there, it is eaten as whole kernels, ground into grits, or as a flour. This type of corn is not commonly grown in the US, but is a more extensively grown in South American countries like Argentina.
Did you know? Archeologists have found evidence of flint corn cultivation by the Pawnee and other tribes as early as 1000 BC!
Popcorn is a popular type of corn that expands and puffs up when heated. Each kernel contains a little bit of moisture and oil inside the hull, which is strong enough to keep other moisture out. When the kernel is heated, the moisture inside becomes pressurized steam, and the starch inside gets soft. At a certain point—about 135 psi and 356 °F—the hull reaches its breaking point and ruptures at a rapid speed. At that moment, the pressure drops and the steam expands, causing the starch to expand into a type of foam. As the starch cools, it gets the crispy “puff” texture that we know and love! Freshly harvested popcorn generally has too much moisture to pop well right away, and must be dried for a number of months to reach optimal moisture content (roughly 14-15% moisture by weight). If the popcorn is dried too long, there won’t be enough moisture inside to create enough steam to reach the breaking point, and will result in an unpopped kernel—known in the popcorn industry as an “old maid.” We grow our own popcorn right here at Cherry Crest… You can pick it directly from the stalk in the field, take it home and dry it out, and then pop it right on the ear!
Click here to watch popcorn popping in slow motion on the Slow Mo Guys channel!
Did you know? The world’s largest popcorn ball was created in Lake Forest, Illinois and unveiled in October 2006. It weighed a whopping 3,145 pounds (over 1.5 tons) and measured 8 feet in diameter!
This type of corn is not widely produced in the US. It has a soft starchy endosperm (inside the kernel) and a thin pericarp (hard outer layer of the kernel). It is primarily used to make corn flour, a very finely ground version of cornmeal. Corn flour is widely used as a substitute for wheat flour, for people with gluten allergies. This type of corn thrives in drier regions, and is primarily grown in the Andean region of South America.
Did you know? The kernels of flour corn are easily ground into flour when they are dry, but if grown in areas that are too wet, they can quickly rot right on the ear.
Pod corn refers to a type of wild corn which is characterized by individual leaves surrounding each kernel, called a “glume.” Many consider it to be the ancestor of other types of corn, though some say it’s just a variety or mutation that grows its leaves at the wrong spot. While other types of corn are classified based on the quality and characteristics of the endosperm (ie dent, sweet, etc), different varieties of pod corn can show characteristics of all the other types. This type of corn is primarily grown in Central and South America, and is often used ornamentally.
Did you know? Pod corn is also called “tunicate maize.”
Put it all together…
This graphic shows how the different types of corn compare to each other—notice the varying shapes of the kernels and cobs! With this handy chart, you’ll become a corn expert in no time!