Corn: Buying, Storing and Using
Called maize in most of the English-speaking world, common corn (Zea mays) is a New World crop. It is the only major grain that is used both as a starch and as a vegetable. The earliest signs of corn cultivation appear around 3,500 B.C. in central Mexico. From there its use spread into South and North America. With the European conquest of the Americas, the crop was distributed around the world.
Varieties of Corn
Corn has been thoroughly domesticated. Its original form, a species of the group of wild grasses called teosintes, is currently threatened in the wild. The food crop is categorized either by color — yellow, white, blue, Indian (multi-colored) — or by sugar content. Recent hybridization has produced super-sweet varieties.
Corn comes into season starting in early to mid-summer and continues into early fall.
Buying, Storing and Preparing Corn
Corn should be eaten as soon as possible after it is harvested. Once picked, sugar in the kernels begins to turn to starch, and the corn loses its sweetness.
Corn on the cob can be boiled, steamed, grilled, roasted or cut into pieces and stewed. Kernels off the cob can be roasted, fried with butter, mixed with tomatoes or beans, stirred into cornmeal batters, used in relishes or added to soups and stews.
When cutting fresh kernels off the cob, make sure to scrape the cob with a knife to extract as much of the sweet, milky juice as you can.
Corn's Uses around the World
Fresh corn, picked when still immature, is a favorite summer vegetable in the Americas and in parts of Africa. Baby corn is a common ingredient in stir fries.
Ground dried corn, treated with lye, forms the base for the tortillas and tamales of Mexico and much of Mesoamerica. Cornmeal is used for polenta in Italy, mamaliga in Romania, ugali in Kenya, and for American cornbread.
Huitlacoche, or Mexican truffle, is a fungus that attacks corn. It is considered a delicacy in Mexico and is used in quesadillas and soups.
(Central American fresh corncakes)
(Central American corn beverage)
(Chilean ground beef casserole with corn batter topping)
(Venezuelan fresh corn pancakes)
(Kenyan corn and beans)
(Ecuadorian, Peruvian toasted corn snack)
(Kenyan mashed peas, potatoes and corn)
(Chilean pumpkin and cranberry bean stew)
(Mexican zucchini and corn simmered in cream)
(Thai chicken with baby corn)
(American corn simmered with cream)
(American, New England seafood and vegetable beach barbecue)
(Costa Rican beef and vegetable stew)
(American caramel-coated popcorn treat)
(Mexican roast corn on the cob)