Thursday, July 3, 2008

Corn - The Stalk of Life?

Corn is getting a lot of attention these days. Always a summer favorite in its fresh form on the cob, corn is also being grown by Pennsylvania farmers for fuel. Penn State is heavily invested in the research needed to convert plant materials, including corn, into biofuels that will ease our increasing energy needs. Corn has the distinction of being both a vegetable and a grain. “Sweet corn” is grown to be eaten fresh, canned or frozen. The sugar in corn converts to starch once the ears are picked. Keeping the corn cold and moist will delay this process and most corn will keep for nearly a week in the refrigerator. Of course, the sooner eaten, the sweeter! Sweet corn is high in fiber, niacin and folate with some vitamin A in the yellow ears. Florida grows most fresh market corn. “Supersweet”, a variety of Florida corn, has twice the sugar content of most corn and allows this corn to be shipped to distant markets. “Field corn” is picked at a mature starchy stage and the kernels are dried until hard. These kernels are ground and used as an ingredient in many foods as corn meal, corn starch or even corn syrup. Corn is the only native American cereal grain, originating in Mexico or Central America. The early explorers took corn kernels back to Europe where corn became a staple food. Because corn is ground as a whole kernel, foods made from corn meal are whole grain and contain a significant amount of fiber. Popcorn is a field corn with thick walled kernels that cause it to explode when steam builds in the kernels during cooking. Raw corn cannot be digested by human digestive tracks so needs to be cooked to break down the starch. Boiling may be the most common cooking method where the ears are immersed in boiling water. Corn can also be steamed or microwaved. More recently, recipes have called for roasted corn. To roast corn, pull the husks back and remove the silk, then replace the husks and tie with kitchen string. Soak the corn ears in cold water for five minutes. Place the corn on a hot grill and cook 15 – 20 minutes, turning occasionally. Corn can also be roasted in the oven at 375°F for 20 – 30 minutes. Roasting will leave a charred look to the kernels and a distinctive smoky flavor. Kernels can be cut off of the cob and used in salads, soups or casseroles. They can even be frozen for later use. Pennsylvania corn is available from July to September. Look for fresh green husks and moist, plump kernels. Visit your farmers’ markets or local produce stands for “just picked” corn to get the sweetest ears. Enjoy corn all year long in its various forms. And who knows, we may even be driving to the grocery store on corn biofuel in the near future! For more information, recipes and activities on corn, go to:

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