Corn (also known as maize), is one of the sweetest tasting grains. In its immature form it is the familiar yellow corn on the cob. When it matures and dries out it is used like other grains to make grain foods like breakfast cereal and tortillas.
Corn production in Australia is small, producing 0.6% of total world production, compared with the USA which is responsible for about 43% of total world production. It is one of the world’s most important crops because it is used widely in food manufacture.
Corn is unique in that it cannot reproduce itself without the aid of humans – its seeds cannot be released because they are tightly wrapped around the ear. Wild corn has never been found and domesticated corn was probably developed through hybridisation.
Nutrition credentials of whole grain corn:
- High in carbohydrate (mainly starch) and dietary fibre.
- Higher in fat (4-5%) compared to other grains, with the fat being mostly unsaturated.
- Generally lower in protein (around 9%) and has a lower vitamin and mineral content than other grains.
- High in potassium and low in sodium.
- Contains B-group vitamins such as thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), folate and pantothenic acid.
- Contains vitamin E.
- Contains iron, zinc, magnesium, phosphorus and selenium (depending on the soil content of selenium).
- Contains small amounts of copper, manganese and calcium.
- Contains phytochemicals including lignans, phenolic acids, phytic acid, plant sterols and saponins. Corn has a higher concentration of plant sterols compared to other grains.
- Yellow corn contains beta-carotene.
- Gluten free.
Main culinary uses of corn:
- Fresh corn – is frequently eaten fresh as a vegetable (sweetcorn), which is steamed or boiled after de-husking. It is also available to eat frozen and canned, either whole or as single corn kernels.
- Corn starch – is used in packaged foods or hydrolysed to dextrose, corn syrup solids or glucose.
- Corn flour – the corn flour sold in the supermarket is in fact corn starch. It is used as a thickener in custard powders, dessert mixes and sauces. Different types of cornflour (cornstarch) are put to a variety of uses e.g. corn flour with a high amylopectin content is used as a starch thickener, while that with a high amylose content is ideal for the production of extruded products.
- Corn meal – made by grinding white or yellow corn, corn meal is used to make polenta, a Northern Italian porridge which can also be sliced cold and eaten like bread. Uncooked corn meal can also be mixed with water, egg, cheese and herbs to make dumplings to float on casseroles. In Central America, corn meal is cooked into flat thin cakes called tacos and tortillas, while the North Americans produce corn bread, corn pone and hominy from corn. In traditional Latin American dough made from the corn flour ‘hominy’ which is used to make soft tacos and tortillas. The corn is soaked in lime (calcium hydroxide) which removes the hard outer hull and the germ. It also releases the B vitamin niacin, preventing the Native Americans from developing the vitamin deficiency pellagra.
- Corn grits – is used for breakfast cereals, such as cornflakes, baking products and snack foods, such as corn chips.
- Popcorn – is made from a corn variety which has a very tough outer covering so that it “explodes” when heated.
- Porridge – in South Africa, corn is boiled with water to make a porridge known as mealie meal.