Diane's Dish On... Corn

As a Jersey girl, summer means fresh New Jersey corn! Corn, descended from a wild grass called teosinte, originated in Central America and has been cultivated for at least 7,000 years. When Columbus "discovered" America, he also discovered corn. Corn as we know it today is a human invention, and does not exist naturally in the wild; it can only survive if planted and protected by humans. 

Click here to see Spectacular Corn Recipes

There are three main varieties of corn: sweet corn, dent corn, and flint corn. Sweet corn is what we eat on the cob. Dent corn is used as animal feed and for other industrial purposes. Flint corn is the type that is most often used to make popcorn.

Nutritional Noshes

  • Corn is 100 percent whole grain.
  • Corn is cholesterol-free and a good source of vitamin C, vitamin A, potassium, thiamin, niacin, folate, fiber, and antioxidants.
  • Corn is gluten-free.
  • Popcorn is high in fiber and low in fat and calories — when not slathered in butter of course.
  • Corn is high in amino acids, and when combined with beans or other legumes, makes a complete protein.
  • The pigment that gives yellow sweet corn its color also contains the phytochemical lutein, which works as an antioxidant in your body to reduce the damage done by free radicals — so choose yellow over white corn, when available, for that extra nutritional boost.
  • Sweet corn is a good source of the antioxidant ferulic acid. Research suggests that ferulic acid plays a vital role in preventing cancers, aging, and inflammation in humans.
  • One ear of yellow sweet corn contains about 85 calories, 3 grams of protein, 20 grams of carbohydrates, and 2.5 grams of fiber.

Culinary Corner

  • To select corn in the husk, pull back enough of the husk to look for full rows of plump and round kernels. The husk should be bright green with dry, golden silk.
  • Raw corn kernels can be cut off and used in salads or cold side dishes.
  • To remove the kernels from the cob, stand the ear upright, and use a sharp knife to slice downward cutting three to four rows at a time. Don't cut too deep or the kernels will be tough and chewy. Do this in a high-rimmed bowl so the kernels land in the bowl rather than shooting all over the place.
  • Serve corn on the cob with a little chopped herbs and seasoned butter or olive oil.
  • Cooked sweet corn is a great addition to salsa, relish, stir-fries, omelettes, pasta, and pilaf.
  • My favorite way to cook corn is to grill it, and this can be done in five simple steps:
  1. Soak the whole cobs in cold water for about 10 minutes before grilling, making sure the ears are completely submerged. Soaking will provide extra moisture and help steam the corn kernels.
  2. Preheat the grill on medium heat, strip the corn husk all the way down to the stem, but don't remove it.
  3. Remove all of the silk. Brush lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with your favorite herbs, spices, and/or seasonings.
  4. Pull husk back up and place each ear of corn, twist the top, and tie with twine.
  5. Place on the grill and cook until the kernels are tender, about 15 minutes, turning occasionally for uniform cooking. The outside will blacken — that's OK.
  • Huitlacoche (aka Mexican corn truffle, maize mushroom, cuitlacoche, and corn smut) is a gray fungus that attacks ears of corn, causing kernels to swell dramatically in size. In Mexico, huitlacoche has been a prized delicacy for centuries due to its earthy, smoky flavor and is similar to a cross between mushrooms and corn. You can purchase it fresh (when in season), frozen, or canned and it makes a great addition to soups, quesadillas, flatbreads, stews, and stir-fries.
  • Jazz up your popcorn with a pinch of salt, herbs, spices, and grated hard cheese. One of my favorite additions to popcorn is a product called True Lemon sprinkled all over it.
  • Off-season, frozen corn is a fair substitute for fresh corn.

Fun Facts

  • Corn is America's number one field crop and leads all other crops in terms of value and volume of production.
  • Corn is a member of the grass family and is related to other grains such as wheat, oats, barley, and rice.
  • Farmers grow corn on every continent except Antarctica.
  • The world record for corn eating is 33 and a half ears in 12 minutes.
  • There are about 800 kernels in 16 rows on each ear of corn.
  • The corn cob is actually part of the corn plant's flower.

Corn-y Quotes

"Then plough deep while sluggards sleep, and you shall have corn to sell and to keep."

Benjamin Franklin

"I have no hostility to nature, but a child's love to it. I expand and live in the warm day like corn and melons."

Ralph Waldo Emerson

"The goldenrod is yellow, the corn is turning brown, the trees in apple orchards with fruit are bending down."

Helen Hunt Jackson

"Gardens, scholars say, are the first sign of commitment to a community. When people plant corn they are saying, let's stay here. And by their connection to the land, they are connected to one another."

Anne Raver

"Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you're a thousand miles from the corn field."

Dwight David Eisenhower 

Click here to see the Corn Cakes with Edamame Pico de Gallo Recipe

Diane Henderiks is a personal chef and culinary nutritionist on a mission to teach America how to cook and eat well. Follow her on Twitter @dhenderiks, "Like" Diane on Facebook, or visit her website.