The American corn organizations, of which there are three main ones, missed an opportunity. I was disappointed to learn that 800-KERNELS—don’t dial that number!—belongs to a business based in Asia. What a marketing miss for corn growers here: 800 is the average number of kernels on an ear of corn.
Choosing your cob of corn
Corn on the cob, fresh from the farms, is becoming more plentiful in the markets and I am excited about that. I’ve never been a fan of frozen corn on the cob, so I forgo the ears for most of the year until it is back in season and I can get them fresh, from May until September. During those months, you will find me preparing and serving it as a side dish, a snack, even taking it on the run, until it is no longer available.
When choosing corn, the first thing is to seek out ears that have a green husk that is fairly stiff, but not dry. Peeling it back should reveal light-colored, green-toned silks. Look for plump kernels that cover the cob to the end. White or yellow, you are now in possession of cobs of treasure.
Reward your efforts by cooking your bounty as soon as possible and you will enjoy corn’s natural sweetness without need for butter or flavorings. Of course, add those if you like, but it’s not necessary to impart flavor. If you’ve always felt corn was rather bland and needed the added calories to taste good, I’m fairly certain you did not enjoy the taste of fresh corn at its best. I personally never buy the cobs packaged with the husk and silks removed, as you lose those indicators of how fresh your corn is. It’s not worth that small convenience to lose flavor, as well as nutrients, as the corn ages.
From the fields to our plate
More than just a tasty accompaniment to your meal, corn has many health benefits. It is high in fiber, which aids in digestion. You will also get close to 10% of your daily value of folate, thiamin, phosphorus, vitamin C and magnesium per serving. Though there is some natural sugar in sweet corn, it is not a high-glycemic food.
There’s something else corn isn’t. It isn’t actually a vegetable, at least by scientific or botanical standards. Corn is a caryopsis—a type of fruit in which the seed coat is tightly fused with the pericarp. You might know caryopses better by their common name: grains. So corn should be classified as a fruit or a grain, but not as a vegetable. Yet the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) classifies it as a vegetable or a grain.
Based on that, corn can be considered either a grain or a vegetable, depending on when it is harvested. The maturity level of corn at harvest affects both its use at meals and its nutritional value. Corn that is harvested when fully mature and dry is considered a grain. It can be milled into cornmeal and used in such foods as corn tortillas and cornbread. Popcorn is also harvested when it matures and is considered to be a whole grain. On the other hand, fresh corn—such as corn on the cob or frozen corn kernels—is harvested when it is soft and has kernels full of liquid. Fresh corn is considered a starchy vegetable.
Unless you are a food technologist (food scientist) or botanist, how corn is classified is not really relevant to your enjoyment of it. Like tomatoes, avocados, and pumpkin, you might choose to call it fruit or vegetable, or you can simply call it delicious. So whether you steam, grill, boil, or roast your corn, enjoy it while you can. I’ll be consuming my share and then some.
Contributing writer Denise Lum is a Health and Fitness Coach raising her family in Alameda. Contact her via [email protected] or FitnessByDsign.com. Her writing is collected at AlamedaPost.com/Denise-Lum.