Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Corn But Didn't Know to Ask

Posted By on Wed, Nov 27, 2013 at 8:53 AM

There are so many articles — informational and otherwise — speculating on the foods served for the first Thanksgiving. Most agree there was shellfish and venison and other items that haven’t survived the years of tradition to be part of our collective Thanksgiving feast. Most also agree the meal did include corn, but most likely in the form of stuffing. So if you’re still having the “dressing versus stuffing” argument, the answer is we’re all kind of right. The first stuffing was probably inside the bird (though it may have been a goose), but there was definitely no white (wheat) bread in there; the natives only ate breads made of corn.

And cornbread is probably the only way they did eat corn, since most natives ate what we now call “flint corn,” which is part of a category known as “field corn.” These days, field corn is used for animal feed, oil, and meal/flour. What we eat as whole kernel or "corn on the cob" is a category of varieties known as sweet corn, which came into existence in the 18th century as a hybridization of field corn.

And both field corn and sweet corn are different from popcorn. That’s right; popcorn is a different variety of corn from the corn you eat on the cob and what the farmed animals are eating. You can try to pop other types of corn, but it probably won't happen, due to the different makeup of what's inside the hull (moisture and starch levels).

Popcorn — though also a type of field corn originally — is now its own category of corn and even has its own two subcategories: mushroom and butterfly (physical descriptors of the popped kernels). The butterfly style is most popular with movie theaters. The mushroom style is most popular for caramel corn. I recently learned all of these facts when having a — let’s say — discussion with my husband. Incidentally, he was the one who was right. All I knew about corn was that some is white (and the dried hulls tend to be softer) and some is yellow (which, to me is the more flavorful of corns). There was obviously so much more to know about corn. I should never have argued; I come from cotton country.

Anyway, there you have it. All you ever wanted to know about corn (or perhaps never cared to know). File this away as useful dinner conversation when your uncle, cousin or grandmother inevitably brings up Obamacare or “when are you going to get married/have kids?” at the dinner table. Buy some extra conflict-free time by trying to pop some sweet corn and report back your results.

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