Corn, South American Indians’ source of starch, is a grass that evolved from a blade of grass called teosinte that has a single row, perhaps a dozen kernels, each of which is embedded in a tough shell.
Botany researchers think that teosinte underwent several mutations that transformed the plant’s female sexual organs into a husk covered ear, several thousand years ago.
Corn originates in Mexico, and the first European to see and consume it was Christopher Columbus when he landed in Hispaniola in the Caribbean.
It is estimated that corn has been cultivated for 9000 tears in Central America. Mayans selected and crossbred bountiful varieties throughout history.
This abundance spread the use of corn in the Americas, and planting further south north.
In Ontario, corn planting can be traced back eight centuries.
Although we think of corn as vegetable, it is actually a grain, and much of which farmers to feed and fatten cattle, pigs, poultry, and framed fish. The food processing industry derives corn oil, corn syrup, corn flour, and cornmeal, just to name a few other everyday commodities from corn.
Columbus took corn to Spain after his first voyage to the New World in 1492. Because its yields are much higher than other grains, it spread quickly. Within a few decades it was grown throughout southern Europe, becoming a staple of the poor, in dishes like polenta. Corn moved along established trade routes and reached Africa, Southeast Asia, and China, which is the second largest producer after the U.S.A.
Corn must be soaked in limewater to soften the grain’s tough skin. This step liberates niacin (vitamin B3), the lack of which causes pellagra.
Originally, corn yielded 40 bushels (500 kilograms) per acre, today this figure ranges from 260 – 200 mostly due to research and hybridizing.
Hybrid corns are much sweeter than their ancestors. Sweet corn must be harvested in August when the kernels are still soft and sugars have not yet been converted to starch. Grain corn is harvested in October – November, during which time kernels are dry.
Corn, a “wonder” grain finds its way into a myriad of foods and beverages, including rye whisky widely believed to be produced using rye. Corn is the starch base of Bourbon and American whiskey, and American brewers use corn in their brews too.