Corn is one of the most used ingredients around the world and is an essential staple food for many countries and their people – even more so than rice and wheat. It is an extremely versatile ingredient and is used more often than you might think.
Corn isn’t only used for food production but is also commonly used to make animal feed and to make various industrial products, for example, paints, polish, candles, cosmetics and wallpaper.
The most common food uses of corn include the production of cereals, snack items (like chips), salad dressings, soft drinks, sweeteners, taco shells, various flour products, peanut butter and of course to make popcorn. These are only a few of the things that require corn in some way or shape.
But how much do you really know about corn? For example, did you know that corn isn’t a vegetable?
What is Corn?
If you are as surprised as I was when I heard this for the first time, then you will be blown away by what corn really is.
A corn kernel is technically classified as a grain. The whole corn (the structure with the many kernels on it) is considered a vegetable. And technically, this is where it gets fascinating, the grain itself is also considered to be a fruit.
What?! But, how can one thing be a grain, vegetable and fruit? To fully understand its’ classification, we need to dive a little bit deeper into corn.
Corn as a grain
A grain is defined as a single hard seed containing the germ, the endosperm and the bran. When you look at a single corn kernel when fully formed, it does contain every part required to be defined as such.
Corn that is used as grains are also usually fully matured and dry when harvested. This is important to remember as corn as a vegetable isn’t fully matured and contains a lot of liquid – another major difference in classifications.
But, are corn products, like cornmeal that only contains the endosperm, still considered a grain-based product?
Like many other types of flour (wheat, rice, etc.), cornflour is also mostly made using only the endosperm. The majority of flour today has unfortunately been excessively processed to remove the germ and bran, the healthiest and most nutritional parts of the grain.
Even though this is the case with most corn flours, it doesn’t change the ingredient it originally came from. Flour is simply a processed version of the grain kernel.
Corn starch is made from the centre starchy part (the cob), not from the grains themselves.
Corn uses (grain)
Corn or maize as a grain, for consumption purposes, is mostly used to produce cornmeal, however, cornmeal is used as a base for thousands of other commercially made products.
Cornmeal is used as the base ingredient for many cereals, snacks, chips, biscuits, breads and much, much more.
Another major product derived from corn is corn syrup. Next time you visit your local grocery store, have a look at a few products’ ingredients list. You will be shocked to see how many contain corn syrup – almost all of them.
This is mainly because corn syrup is much cheaper to use than other forms of sweeteners.
Corn as a fruit
Let’s tackle the confusing definition next.
A fruit has many definitions, some very basic and some more intricate and scientific. If we look at the scientific definition, you will see that one of the definitions is that fruit grows that the seed.
When looking at the same definition for vegetables, you will see that they grow from the leaves or stems.
Corns (the kernels) grow from the cob (the seed) and are therefore classified as a fruit. What’s even more fascinating is that each kernel is a fruit on its own!
Putting it like that doesn’t make it sound so crazy anymore!
Related: Is Mushroom A Vegetable
Corn as a vegetable
Again, we look at the scientific definition of the word “vegetable”. A vegetable (although we just said is defined by the edible part growing from the stem or leaf) can also be defined as a herbaceous plant that grows from an edible part.
This is also true when looking at corn as the cob is also edible and used for many products and purposes.
Corn is more specifically classified as a starchy vegetable, like potatoes and squash. If you have never thought of corn as starchy and carb-filled, think about this. What is the most common food thickening agent; corn starch! It is literally in the name!
Corn as a vegetable is harvested when it is still immature. This means it is packed with moisture (thus not dry) and makes for a very juicy and flavorful raw ingredient.
If you can still remember from the “Corn as a grain” section, when corn is fully matured and dry, it then becomes a grain and is therefore processed and used as one.
There are tons of varieties of fresh corn available on the market, each with its own flavor profile and cooking characteristics.
Fresh corn can also be used raw or processed.
Raw corn can be steamed, grilled, baked or even pickled. Unfortunately, like many other vegetables, it isn’t recommended to consume raw as it is very hard and the flavors won’t be as prominent.
There are many dishes made using fresh corn both as main ingredients and as garnishes. Dishes made from primarily corn include corn fritters, corn casserole, cornbread, grilled corn (accompanied by a variety of garnishes), corn salad or corn salsa.
The biggest product that is processed, but made from fresh corn is canned corn. This could either be corn kernels in brine or cream-style sweetcorn.
Sweetcorn can be consumed as is or made a part of a delicious recipe. Fun fact; the word sweetcorn doesn’t describe the canned product, rather the corn varietal.
Read More: Is Garlic a vegetable
Who would’ve ever thought that corn would be so interesting and complex? However you prefer it – fruit, vegetable or grain – to me, corn will always be good old faithful corn.