native to: Central America
in season here: late July – September
Corn, or maize, comes in many different colors and two basic types, sweet corn and field corn (the source of corn chips, corn meal, and cornstarch, as well as animal food and ethanol). In the U.S. “corn” usually means sweet corn, that you eat off the cob with butter, salt, and other possible seasonings. In Europe, “corn” means grain in general, and sweet corn is uncommon; “maize” is more likely to mean field corn. Aren’t cultural differences fun? Corn is technically a fruit, although it tends to get lumped in with the grains, being the fruit of a grass.
So, each color of corn has its own blend of phytonutrients. Yellow corn is high in carotenoids, especially lutein and zeaxanthin. Corn is a good source of fiber, and it’s a kind of fiber that nourishes both the probiotics in your gut and the intestinal cells themselves. It’s also a good source of manganese, B vitamins, phosphorus, and protein. Corn is fairly high in sugar, but has a low to medium glycemic index. By regulating the speed of digestion in general, corn can help even out blood sugar spikes and drops. There have even been studies that suggest that the lectins in corn can inhibit HIV. Popcorn has fewer vitamins than sweet corn but is higher in minerals, and is one of the most popular whole-grain foods in the U.S.
Corn was first domesticated in Mesoamerica over 8000 years ago, where it was considered sacred. In the modern world, corn is less highly regarded, being the source of high-fructose corn syrup. It contains phytic acid, which can impair the absorption of minerals; this is not serious enough to be a problem in a varied and well-balanced diet but can be a concern in a more limited grain-and-legume diet.
Corn is susceptible to microbial contamination when exposed to heat, so look for corn that has been kept in the shade. While modern varieties of corn are slower to convert their sugars to starch, freshness is still an important consideration. While many people partially shuck corn and examine the kernels when selecting it, this can damage the corn; with a little practice, you can feel how full the ear is instead. Corn isn’t as bad as some vegetables when it comes to pesticide residues, but it’s still a concern; buying organic corn is also the best way to be sure of avoiding genetically modified varieties.
label-style nutrition information for yellow corn
label-style nutrition information for white corn
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Versión en español: this post is also available in Spanish.
Esperanta traduko: this post is also available in Esperanto, because Dana is a language geek.