Types of Corn and Corn Products

Apart from fresh summer corn on the cob, corn is actually categorized as a grain. Think of the multitude of foods that come from corn: polenta, cornmeal, popcorn, hominy, cereals, bourbon, cornstarch, corn syrup, corn oil, and plenty of other food additives. All that to say, corn is a major food staple in America and elsewhere around the world. Along with soy and wheat, corn is one of the primary crops for agricultural needs. (Beyond human consumption, corn is also grown for biofuels and animal feed.) Dried corn products like cornmeal, hominy (grits), and masa (nixtamalized corn flour) differ in the type of corn, the processing techniques, and size of the grain once it is ground. Dried corn products can be stored for long times and transported quite far for worldwide food staples.


There is a long history of corn as a food staple used for survival of humans. The word "maize" might sound familiar, or perhaps the word maïs in French. Maize is dried corn on the cob. "The first corn plant is believed to have been developed by the natives of Central America from a tall wild grass" (Nothing More Comforting, p 175). The Aztecs of Mesoamerica completely relied on maize for survival and much of their rituals and practices revolved around maize. Still to this day in Mexico and parts of Central America, maize or corn products are eaten at every meal such as with tortillas.

In other Indigenous cultures, corn also has a long and significant history. Corn, beans, squash collectively is known as the "three sisters" in Native American food culture. The three plants grow symbiotically and help each other thrive.

Ways to Cook

Fresh corn on the cob has a dominant sweetness to it. That sweet taste dissipates hours after being picked. Corn should be stored in the cooler and used as soon as possible for ultimate freshness.

Native Americans were quite savvy in some of their agricultural practices. They were resourceful too. Corn husks were and are used in making tea, tamales, huitlacoche (delicacy using fungus that grows on corn), or just used to protect the kernels when grilling or roasting.

Polenta is a favourite too. It is very inexpensive but can be made into a luscious and velvety dish by adding butter, cream, cheese, and herbs to name a few. Keeping soft polenta smooth can be tricky and judging the consistency by the time it reaches the table also takes some experience.

Popcorn! A favourite snack food, indeed. The crunch of fresh popcorn is very satisfying. Have you ever looked closely at the shapes of popcorn? Why does the expensive candied or caramel popcorn always look so round? There are different varieties of corn which pop into different shapes called butterflies, snowflakes, and mushrooms, for example.

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