Sweet corn

No other vegetable brings up the memory of summer and warm weather fun like sweet corn.

An ear of corn buttered and seasoned to your liking is just the right thing to get you in the mood for a picnic. But, there is more to sweet corn than that summer favorite. Let's take a closer look at some of its better qualities and characteristics.

Corn is the well-recognized product of stalks growing tall in vast fields that reach the horizon. The layers of broad leaves are the germinating environment for the ears themselves, and as the corn grows inside this cocoon, male and female flowers mature and release pollen as the entire plant matures. Sweet corn is a variety of corn with high sugar content which is harvested early (milk stage rather than dent stage) and eaten as a vegetable.

In the United States, corn is the leading field crop by a two-to-one margin. We know what corn on the cob looks like. But, this summer picnic staple has a bigger audience than that. Corn is used to produce everything from fuel alcohol for a cleaner burning gasoline, to butters, cereals, soft drinks, and snack foods. It is also grown as feed for livestock. Some farmers plant varieties of corn that grow very tall in order to create mazes for the sake of entertainment.

Sweet corn trivia

Corn or “maize” has been grown since prehistoric times by some of the earliest civilizations in our world's history. Mayan and Olmec cultures were among the first to cultivate corn in the southern part of Mexico, and the crop began to spread through the Americas by the year 1700 B.C.

When Europeans began to travel to and settle in the Americas, they traded corn with their mother country, and corn began to be a well-known staple of diets around the world. Today, corn is produced on every continent in the world except Antarctica.

Scientifically speaking, the name for corn is “zea mays” which leads us to the word “mahiz,” the traditional name by which the Native Americans called this crop. However, many cultures throughout the world have cultivated corn and called it maize, a variation of the word. The colors of corn may surprise you. We normally see sweet corn on the table in shades of yellow, but corn is grown in a variety of colors which include red, purple, blue, and even pink. Some of this corn is strictly ornamental, but some is edible, too.

What to look for when buying sweet corn

Choosing a fresh ear of sweet corn means choosing ears that have green husks, which are not dried out, and golden silk. You can check the freshness of individual kernels by pressing on them with a fingernail. The freshest corn will emit a milky, white fluid that indicates the corn is at its peak of sweetness and flavor. The husks protect the corn, so they should only be removed when you're ready to eat the ears you've purchased. Many stores husk the corn, trim it, and wrap it in plastic. If there is no other option, that's fine, but look for corn that is still in the husk for optimum freshness and sweetness.

Preparation and cooking

There are a number of delicious cold salads you can make with sweet corn. You'll also find corn adds a wonderful filling taste and texture to many soups, chili, and casseroles. Sweet corn chowder is a popular East Coast soup.

For any recipe, the best is fresh sweet corn. If you don't have it, frozen sweet corn., thawed, is a good substitution. Canned sweet corn can also be used, but the results are not as good. If you do not have sweet corn at all but you want to try a particular recipe, substitute 1 cup of sweet corn, fresh, frozen, or canned, with 1 cup of other cooked cereal, such as barley or spelt, 1 cup of fresh shelled peas, or 1 cup frozen peas, thawed.

If you are a grilling fanatic, be sure to add corn to your menu. Just remove the silk, keep the husks wrapped tightly and soak in cold water. Remove and place on low grill on indirect heat until you can smell the sweet corn aroma. Remove and baste with seasoned butter for even more savory goodness.

Corn husks give a hint of corn flavor when used to wrap food. Packaged corn husks usually need to be soaked in very hot water for 30 minutes before using them to wrap food. If you don't have them, substitute corn husks with:

  • Hoja Santa leaves - fennel and root beer flavor
  • banana leaves - herb flavor
  • parchment paper or aluminum foil - no flavor
Cooked sweet corn kernels.

Sweet corn