Corn: Important Facts, Health Benefits, and Recipes

Explore the health benefits of corn, its nutritional information, and various types of corn, along with delicious recipes and tips for keeping corn fresh!

What Is Corn?

Corn (aka maize) is a cereal plant of the grass family and its edible grain. It is used as livestock feed, as human food, as biofuel, and as raw material in industry. Corn is one of the most widely distributed crops in the world. 

Is Corn Good For You?

Corn, when eaten in its natural form from the cob, can be good for you. But the processed versions like corn syrup are not good for you.

4 Health Benefits Of Corn

  1. Corn is a good source of fiber
    1. The fiber in corn helps you stay full for longer between meals. It also feeds healthy bacteria in your digestive tract, which may help protect against colon cancer .
    2. Popcorn may also help prevent diverticulitis , a condition that causes pouches in the walls of your colon . In a large study, men who ate more popcorn had a lower risk of getting diverticular disease.
    3. Dietary fiber intake has been linked to a lower risk of several diseases, including heart disease and some cancers.
  2. Corn is rich in vitamin C , an antioxidant that helps protect your cells from damage and wards off diseases like cancer and heart disease.
  3. Yellow corn is a good source of the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, which are good for eye health and help prevent the lens damage that leads to cataracts , and may prevent cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
    1. This is likely because lutein and zeaxanthin make up a large part of the macular region of your eyes
    2. One study in 365 adults found that those who had the highest intake of carotenoids — especially lutein and zeaxanthin — had a 43% lower chance of developing AMD compared to those with the lowest intake.
  4. Corn also has smaller amounts of vitamins B, E, and K, along with minerals like magnesium and potassium .

History, Background, and General Facts About Corn

Corn was first domesticated by the native people in southern Mexico about 10,000 years ago from a wild grass called teosinte. Teosinte kernels were much smaller than modern corn kernels. Corn evolved over time as farmers chose specific versions to plant.

Around 4,500 years ago , maize began to spread to the north; it was first cultivated in what is now the United States at several sites in New Mexico and Arizona, about 4,100 ago.

What Are The Cuisines That Regularly Include Corn?

Corn is a versatile ingredient that is used in various cuisines around the world. Here are some cuisines where corn is commonly incorporated:

  1. Mexican Cuisine: Corn is a staple in Mexican cuisine and is used in numerous traditional dishes such as tamales, tortillas, enchiladas, pozole (a hearty corn soup), elote (grilled corn on the cob), and esquites (a corn salad). Corn masa, a dough made from ground corn, is the basis for many Mexican dishes.

  2. American Cuisine: Corn is a significant component of American cuisine, particularly in regions like the Southern United States and the Midwest. It is used to make cornbread, corn pudding, corn chowder, succotash, and corn on the cob.

  3. South American Cuisine: Corn is widely consumed in South American countries such as Peru, Bolivia, and Colombia. In Peru, the famous dish "ceviche" often includes corn kernels. In Bolivia, "salteñas" (baked savory pastries) and "humitas" (steamed corn cakes) feature corn prominently. In Colombia, arepas (cornmeal cakes) are a popular traditional food.

  4. Indigenous Cuisine: Indigenous cultures worldwide, including Native American cuisine, often incorporate corn into their traditional dishes. Corn is used in a variety of ways, such as corn porridge, cornbread, corn soup, and as a filling in various dishes.

  5. African Cuisine: Corn is a staple crop in many African countries. It is used in diverse dishes like banku and kenkey (fermented corn dough), sadza or pap (a cornmeal-based porridge), and ugali (a stiff cornmeal paste). Corn is also used to make snacks like roasted or boiled corn on the cob.

  6. Asian Cuisine: While rice is the predominant staple in Asian cuisine, corn is still utilized in some dishes. In Chinese cuisine, sweet corn soup and stir-fried corn with vegetables are popular. In Korean cuisine, corn is used in dishes like corn cheese, corn pancakes, and corn tea.

What Is The Best Way To Store Corn?

Corn tastes sweetest if you serve it within 3-4 days of buying it. If you can't cook it right away, leave the husks on and put the cobs in the fridge. The cold will keep them fresh for up to 5 days.

What Are The Different Types Of Corn?

The classifications are based mainly on the texture of the kernel: dent corn , flint corn, flour corn, sweet corn, and popcorn .

  • Dent corn: mostly grown as animal feed and for food manufacturing; characterized by a depression in the crown of the kernel caused by unequal drying of the hard and soft starch making up the kernel.
  • Flint corn: containing little soft starch, has no depression; it is used for decoration and is eaten as hominy in the Americas.
  • Flour corn: composed largely of soft starch, has soft, mealy, easily ground kernels and is an important source of corn flour.
  • Sweet corn: commonly sold fresh, frozen, or canned as a vegetable , has wrinkled translucent seeds; the plant sugar is not converted to starch as in other types.
  • Popcorn: an extreme type of flint corn characterized by small hard kernels, is devoid of soft starch, and heating causes the moisture in the cells to expand, making the kernels explode.

What Are The Various Corn Products?

  • Corn flour: type of flour that's milled from dried whole corn kernels. It contains the hull, germ, and endosperm of the corn and is considered a whole grain flour . Corn flour is usually yellow, but it can also be white or blue depending on the variety of corn it uses. The texture is fine and smooth. Recipes: breading and pancakes
  • Masa harina: a flour used in Mexican cooking that's used to make tortillas, tamales , and pupusas. Masa harina has a fine, smooth texture and is made from finely ground corn kernels that have been soaked in limewater, or calcium hydroxide.
  • Corn meal: made from milled dried whole corn kernels with a grittier/coarser texture than corn flour. Recipes: cornbread, corn muffins, corn dogs
  • Cornstarch: is a white, chalky powder that's used as a thickener for sauces and stews. Cornstarch is made from the endosperm of the corn kernel. The starches inside the endosperm are removed, rinsed, dried, and milled into a fine powder (a.k.a. cornstarch).
    • The other parts of the kernel, the hull and the germ, are separated out and processed into other corn products like corn oil and corn bran.
  • Corn oil : refine oil made from processing corn. Corn is not a naturally oily food, so it has to go through a pretty involved process to extract oil.
    • The kernels must first be mechanically pressed to separate the oil. The oil then goes through a series of chemical processes that remove impurities
    • Corn oil is used as an industrial cleaner and lubricant, as well as to make fuel for gasoline- and diesel-powered engines. Plus, it’s included in many cosmetic products, liquid soaps, and shampoos.
    • Corn oil is also used as frying oil . It has a very high smoke point (the temperature at which oil begins to burn) of about 450°F (232°C), making it ideal for deep-frying foods.
  • Corn syrup : Corn syrup is one of several natural sweeteners derived from corn starch.
    • It is used in a wide variety of food products including cookies, crackers, flavored yogurts, ice cream, preserved meats, canned foods, soups, beers, etc.
    • It is also used to provide an acceptable taste to sealable envelopes, stamps, and aspirins.
    • High fructose corn syrup, which is as sweet as sugar and is often used in soft drinks.
    • Corn syrup may be shipped and used as a thick liquid or it may be dried to form a crystalline powder.
  • Grain alcohol : Corn starch is fermented and distilled to produce grain alcohol . Grain alcohol from maize is traditionally the source of Bourbon whiskey .

Toxicity and Side Effects Of Corn

Corn is a starchy vegetable, like potatoes and peas and it has sugar and carbohydrates that can raise your blood sugar levels . It can still be a healthy part of your diet if eaten in moderation. If you have diabetes , you don't necessarily need to avoid corn, but watch your portion sizes .

A lot of corn is genetically modified (GM). That means that scientists have changed the DNA in corn to make it more resistant to drought or insects, or to give it more nutrients. Farmers sometimes use this type of corn in their crops. If you want to avoid GMOs, be careful and read labels.