Sweet corn is a variety of maize that, thanks to a natural genetic mutation, is high in sugar — hence its name. To preserve its sweetness, it is picked in its immature form, the ‘milk stage’, because if left too long, the sugar in the kernels quickly converts into starch.
This native of the Americas is now a true global food — the only continent where it is not grown is Antarctica. It’s so big that in America — the world’s largest producer — there is a corn palace in Mitchell, South Dakota. It was built in 1892 and each year, fresh crops of corn and other grains are used in murals decorating the outside of the building.
America also boasts the tallest sweet corn plant reportedly ever grown, which measured 10.74m.
Technically, corn is a grain but it is widely used as a vege and each ear or cob has 16 rows and up to 800 kernels. The tassels at the top are called silks and there is one silk for every kernel. In summer there is no shortage of fresh sweet corn in stores and roadside stalls, so buy it while you can.
Use it in salads, fritters and salsas or on its own, boiled, microwaved or thrown onto the barbecue. Baby sweet corn can be used in stir-fries.
Sweet corn, like potato, is high in carbohydrates, so think of it as belonging in the carb portion of your plate. Sweet corn contains antioxidant carotenoids including lutein and zeaxanthin which are particularly beneficial for eye health.
Keep your corn, with the husks still on, in the crisper drawer of your fridge. Use them within a day or two, otherwise the sugar will convert to starch and the kernels will lose their sweetness.
Husks should be fresh and green, the silks pale green and the kernels plump and without wrinkles or dents.
- For a quick snack, microwave a cob of corn in its husk on high for about 5 minutes.
- Make your own creamed corn by grating cooked corn from the cob.
- If you are barbecuing cobs, plunge them into iced water about an hour before cooking. This helps them cook evenly.