June 11, National Corn on the Cob Day

Corn is a wild grass. Over 10,000 years ago, people from Southern Mexico collected and consumed a wild grass called ‘teosinte’, which is now what we call ‘maize’ (field corn). From Mexico, maize spread during migrations, into the southwest areas of the U.S.A and south to Peru. Corn is now America’s biggest crop and a staple of the global food supply.

Native Americans taught European colonists to grow indigenous grains. Since its introduction into Europe by Christopher Columbus and other explorers and colonizers, corn has spread to all areas of the world suitable for its cultivation.

It is grown from 58° N latitude in Canada and Russia to 40° S latitude in South America, with a corn crop maturing somewhere in the world nearly every month of the year. Iowa has approximately 86,900 farms. More than 97 percent of those farms are growing corn.

Besides being consumed corn is also used for corn ethanol, animal feed, and other maize products, such as corn starch, cornmeal, corn oil, and corn syrup. The six major types of maize are dent corn, flint corn, pod corn, popcorn, flour corn, and sweet corn. Only one percent of corn planted in the United States is sweet corn.

Sweet corn is what people purchase fresh, frozen, or canned for eating. It’s consumed as a vegetable. 99 percent of corn grown in Iowa is “Field Corn”. When Iowa’s corn farmers deliver corn from the field, it’s “Field Corn”. Not the delicious sweet corn you might enjoy on the cob or in a can. Field corn is the classic big ears of yellow-dented corn you see dried and harvested in the fall.

It’s called “dent corn” because of the distinctive dent that forms on the kernel as the corn dries. While a small portion of “Field Corn” is processed for use as corn cereal, corn starch, corn oil, and corn syrup for human consumption, it is primarily used for livestock feed, ethanol production, and manufactured goods. It’s considered a grain.

The corn plant is a tall annual grass with a stout, erect, solid stem. The large narrow leaves have wavy margins and are spaced alternately on opposite sides of the stem. Staminate (male) flowers are borne on the tassel terminating the main axis of the stem.

The pistillate (female) inflorescences, which mature to become the edible ears, are spikes with a thickened axis, bearing paired spikelets in longitudinal rows; each row of paired spikelets normally produces two rows of grain. Varieties of yellow and white corn are the most popular as food, though there are varieties with red, blue, pink, and black kernels, often banded, spotted, or striped. Each ear is enclosed by modified leaves called shucks or husks.

Nutrition facts for 3.5 ounces of boiled yellow corn
  • Calories: 96
  • Water: 73%
  • Protein: 3.4 grams
  • Carbs: 21 grams
  • Sugar: 4.5 grams
  • Fiber: 2.4 grams
  • Fat: 1.5 grams

A corn cob with an odd number of rows is more unusual than a four-leaf clover. There have even been instances where corn with an odd number of rows has been reported in the news due to its rarity. If you’ve ever counted the kernels on your corn and spotted an uneven row, consider yourself lucky.

Most processed foods contain corn like cereals, potato chips, ice cream, baby food, peanut butter, mayonnaise, marshmallows, cooking oil, margarine, salad dressing, and chewing gum. The production of corn even surpassed rice and wheat. The corn’s secondary products are found in various non-food items such as cosmetics, laundry detergent, soap, aspirin, antibiotics, rust preventatives, glue, paint, dyes, fireworks, shoe polish, ink, and plastic products.

The United States calls the states of Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, Minnesota, Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Michigan, Missouri, Kansas, and Kentucky its “Corn Belt.” The Corn Belt region of the United has been mass-producing corn since the 1850s.

Corn Facts

According to Guinness World Records, the tallest sweetcorn stands at 10.74 meters or 35 feet and 2 inches tall. A guy named Jason Karl from Allegany, New York, United States has been growing corn since he was a teenager. The sweetcorn was measured on December 22, 2011, from a horizontal position at the bottom of the botanical shoot to the top of the tassel.

In general, corn can take between 60 to 100 days to reach
harvest depending on its variety and the volume of heat during
the growing season. Furthermore, since corn is cold-intolerant,
they are planted during the spring season in the temperate zones
(places with four seasonal changes such as the United States).

Corn steep liquor is a byproduct of the process of separating the various parts of corn. It is the water used to soak the various components, and it is reused in several steps. Corn steep liquor contains acids, yeast, gluten, and plenty of nitrogen, and is partially fermented by the time it leaves the mill. It was discarded as waste until the 1940s when scientists determined that corn-steep liquor is the perfect medium in which to grow large quantities of penicillin.

Corn germ is a waste product of the separation of corn components. It is what’s left of the plant germ after the oil has been pressed out, and is used for livestock feed. However, components of corn germ can be used to make industrial glue stronger. This reduces the amount of resin required in the glue formula, which should make the adhesive less expensive to produce.

Further Reading


Iowa Corn
My Dad’s Sweet Corn
Mental Floss

Author: Doyle

I was born in Atlanta, moved to Alpharetta at 4, lived there for 53 years and moved to Decatur in 2016. I've worked at such places as Richway, North Fulton Medical Center, Management Science America (Computer Tech/Project Manager) and Stacy's Compounding Pharmacy (Pharmacy Tech).

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