Sinking your teeth into a cob of just-picked-and-immediately-steamed sweet corn is one of the soaring high points of the growing season. But there’s more to corn than just sweet corn.
It’s not out of the ordinary to count over 50 different corn varieties in the average seed catalog, including some truly startling head turners: cobs of pearlescent creams, near-black kernels, and eye-poppingly marbled varieties with golds, reds and purples all on the same cob! Then there’s their wide range of uses: sweet corn for eating fresh, corns for drying and grinding into cornmeal or corn flour, corn for popping, and decorative types to add a little visual cheer.
So, let’s peel aside the husks and peer a little closer into the wonderful world of corn.
Sweet types are the result of a mutation of the standard field corn and are harvested while the kernels are still immature, which technically makes sweet corn a vegetable, not a grain.
You can tell if sweet corn is ready to pick with the fingernail test. Peel back just enough of the husk to expose a few of the plump kernels, then sink a nail into one of them. If it exudes a watery liquid it’s not quite ready, but if the liquid is milky then the cob is good to go. Enjoy sweet corn as fresh as you can, but freeze gluts off the cob before they turn too starchy.
There are many, many varieties of sweetcorn, with hybrid types are usually bred to max out natural sugar levels – ideal if yours is a sweet tooth!
Corn for Popping
Popcorn types have kernels containing a higher moisture content, which turns to steam when heated. As the steam builds up, so does the pressure, until the hull tears open, enabling the kernel to explode to up to 50 times its original size. Pretty amazing, right?
Popcorn isn’t the preserve of modern movie goers. In fact, they’ve been popping corn in what is today Mexico for at least 5,000 years! Pop this corn onto your seed shopping list and keep this long tradition alive. It’s great fun for younger members of the household – heat whole cobs in the microwave for spectacular-looking popcorn on the cob.
Corn for Grinding
Golden yellow cornmeal is made by grinding up certain types of dried corn. Cornmeal is often sold as polenta in the UK, but strictly speaking polenta is a porridge made of boiled cornmeal. The American version of polenta is grits, a popular dish in the South that’s cooked using hominy, a pale type of corn, in place of yellow corn.
Cornmeal flour is also the base ingredient to corn chips, tortillas, taco shells and cornbread. Most corn is grown in order to dry and process in some way.
Dent corn is the most common type of corn used for cornmeal, so called for the small but noticeable ‘dents’ at the top of each kernel. Flint corns are super hard – hence the name – and come in a range of colors, making them very popular to use as decorations, though they can also be popped for snacking. And then there’s flour corn, grown in drier regions to grind to even finer texture to give corn flour, which can be used in place of wheat flour.
If you're drying your corn and fall is turning damp, bring it under cover to finish drying. Peel back the husks to expose the kernels then tie them up out of the way of direct sunshine in a warm, dry, well-ventilated place. You could also dry cobs on racks. Once they are completely dry, detach the kernels from the cob (rubbing two dried cobs together helps dislodge them) and store in an airtight container.
Have you grown corn for drying or popping and, if so, what did you grow? I’d love to know, so please leave a comment below.