December 17, 2017
Sweet, Fresh Corn (Maize)

Sweet, Fresh Corn (Maize)

by Berkeley Wellness  |  

Corn, also called maize, ranks as one of America’s favorite fresh vegetables—though technically it’s not a vegetable but a grain. Corn kernels are actually seeds, and the corn plant is a type of grass. This grain is native to the American continents. Scientists have found wild corn pollen believed to be 80,000 years old beneath Mexico City, and it’s been a dietary staple of indigenous peoples in the Americas for thousands of years. Corn was exported to Europe after Columbus’s crew discovered the grain in Cuba in 1492. Today, corn is eaten throughout most of the world.

When European colonists arrived in the New World in the 1600s, initially they depended on corn for their survival. The early settlers learned from the natives how to prepare corn dishes such as corn fritters, corn pone, succotash, corn bread, corn chowder, and even popcorn (the settlers ate popcorn as a breakfast cereal with milk and maple syrup). The corn of that day was a starchier, less-tender version of the sweet corn we eat now.

Today, in spite of being America’s favorite, most of the world’s corn crop is used as field corn. Field corn is picked at a mature, starchy stage and then dried to a more hardened state. From there, field corn is used in animal feed and in an array of products, from whiskey to fuel and plastics. Aside from animal feed, the largest industrial use of American corn is the production of corn sweeteners for beverages—carbonated drinks, fruit juices and fruit drinks, beers and ales, and even wines. A bushel of corn, which weighs about 56 pounds, can be processed to produce 33 pounds of sweeteners, enough to sweeten 324 cans of cola. Corn sweeteners have surpassed all other types of sugar.

Corn: Nutrition

Most varieties of corn are good sources of carbohydrates, fiber, B vitamins (thiamin and folate), and a handful of minerals, including potassium, iron, and magnesium. They also have some vitamin C. Yellow corn contains the carotenoids beta carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin.

Although corn contains protein, it’s low in the essential amino acids lysine and tryptophan. By combining corn with legumes, such as its lima beans and black beans, you can get complete protein. Although corn contains a reasonable amount of the B vitamin niacin, most of it is in a form that is unavailable to the body. However, when corn is treated with an alkaline substance, such as lime (which is used to make hominy), much of the niacin is released.

For a full listing of nutrients, see Yellow Corn and White Corn in the National Nutrient Database.

Types of Corn

Fresh corn is available year round. However, to appreciate corn at its best, you should get it when it’s not long off the corn plant. This means buying it when local crops are available, usually in mid to late summer, and sometimes early fall.Yellow and white super-sweet varieties of corn are

Other corn products

  • Chicos: These dried sweet yellow corn kernels can be reconstituted in the same manner as you would cook dried beans.
  • Grits and Polenta: Grits are cooked ground corn commonly eaten in the Southern U.S., while polenta is the Italian version. Modern grits are made with coarsely ground hominy, which is then cooked with water into a mush and served either hot for breakfast or as a side dish. The mush can also be chilled, cut into squares, and fried. The most common type of corn turned into grits is white hominy, though yellow varieties are sometimes used. Polenta is made with yellow flint corn and often cooked with parmesan cheese.
  • Hominy: Sometimes called posole, these are large, dried white or yellow field corn kernels soaked and cooked in a solution of lime (or lye) and water to loosen the skin, which is then removed. The whole hominy kernels can be cooked as a side dish, or added to soups and stews, such as posole (pozole), a Mexican soup with pre-Columbian origins. Dried hominy can be ground into grits. Undried hominy is ground to form masa, Spanish for “dough.” Masa is used to make corn tortillas and tamales. Dried hominy is ground to make masa harina (“corn dough flour”), which can be reconstituted with water and used as masa.
  • Popcorn: Popcorn is a type of “field corn” with thick-walled kernels. When heated, steam is trapped inside the dried kernels, causing them to “explode.” Although popcorn is itself low in calories and virtually fat-free, the calories pile up if it is popped in oil or if served with melted butter. Microwave popcorns are usually no healthier as they use oils as well, and some come with additional butter. Even the “light” microwave versions get 45 percent of their calories from fat.

How to Choose the Best Corn

For corn, freshness means staying cool, since warmth converts the sugar in the kernels into starch. In the supermarket, corn should be displayed in a refrigerated bin. At a farm stand or a farmers’ market, it should be kept in the shade or on ice.

How to store or freeze fresh corn

To best enjoy fresh corn’s flavor, “the sooner the better” is a rule of thumb. Try not to store corn for more than a few hours. Cook it as soon as possible after it is picked. Be sure to refrigerate corn the moment you get home if you are not cooking it right away. At room temperature, sweet corn loses its sugar six times faster than at 32°. An unrefrigerated ear of corn can lose up to half its total sugar in one day. Refrigeration also helps the corn retain its vitamin C content.

If the corn is still in its husk, leave it that way to keep it moist until you are ready to cook it. If the ears are already fully or partially shucked, place them in a perforated plastic bag.

If you have more corn than you can use within a day or two, parboil it for just a minute or two—this step stops the conversion of sugar to starch. You can refrigerate a par-boiled ear of corn for up to three days.

To freeze fresh corn, cut the kernels off the parboiled cob, and place them in a freezer-safe container.

How to use corn

Unless you are grilling or roasting corn in its husk, strip off the husk and snap off the stalk ends, or leave them on to use it as “handles,” if you like. Pull off the silk, using a dry vegetable brush to remove strands of silk caught between the kernels.

If you prefer to eat the kernels off the cob, there are two basic ways to remove them:

  • To cut whole kernels from the cob, hold an ear of corn vertically, resting the tip on the bottom of a large, wide bowl to catch the kernels as you work. Slide a sharp knife down the length of the cob to slice off the kernels. Don’t press hard, or you will also cut off part of the cob.
  • For cream-style corn, slit each row of kernels with a sharp knife, then run the back of the knife down the length of the cob, to squeeze out the pulp and juice, leaving the skins of the kernels on the cob.

See also: Five great recipes that useCorn.

11 Ways to Serve Corn

Roasted corn-on-the-cob is an American BBQ favorite, but there are many ways to use this sweet grain. Try some of these creative serving suggestions for corn. Skip the butter on corn-on-the-cob and use wedges of lemon or lime instead.Add corn kernels (raw or cooked) to turkey burger mixtures.Use corn kernels in mixed

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