I have considerable knowledge of corn. It’s made me a bit of a corn snob and I want to see healthy, happy corn back in our lives and on our dinner plates.
Growing up, corn was served several times a week at our house. Besides a love of the flavor, my father worked in the seed industry for many years. During the summer, there was at least one or two weekends where we processed a lot of corn. We are talking 10 -12 gunny sacks. We spent the early hours of the morning picking the corn while the dew still clung to the plants – before the sweltering heat dehydrated us or our harvest. After loading the hulking bags in the pickup, we retreated back to the large yard between my parent’s and grandparent’s houses. The kids (me, my siblings and few cousins) would spend the day husking the corn in the shady yard. Inevitably there would be silk ball fights. The adults where in the kitchen, blanching the corn, stripping it off the cobs and then bagging it for freezing. Mom and grandma had carefully calculated out how many bags of corn they wanted to have processed to get us through until next July. It was long, hot work but the taste of fresh corn or corn that you process yourself is hard to beat.
Needless to say, I’m picky.
I started work in the corn fields and at the “trial grounds” in my early teens. Trial grounds are places where seed companies grow small batches of whatever crop they are working on hybridizing – corn varieties in search of a better corn variety. I was a part of the crew that would assess the new varieties. We looked at plant shape, structure, corn ear size, row evenness, color, flavor and sweetness. It was intriguing work and it gave me a great knowledge of growing corn – along with a round or two of heat stroke. Fortunately, I had left working at this particular company by the time Monsanto was stepping in to control corn and other crops. Michael Pollen beautifully outlines the problems with the practice of subsidizing corn in his book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and how it affects our food economy and supply. But that’s not the point of this blog.
Corn is a beautiful food and one that I feel we should push to bring back in organic and heirloom varieties.
A kernel of corn’s history
The corn we have today is far changed from the maize that Native Americans grew. In fact, it is so changed that it really can’t survive without the help of humans – unlike potatoes or squash that are nearly impossible to stop from growing.
We believe corn to be about 7000 years old. It originated in Mexico from a grass called teosinte. Teosinte was a spindly little plant and the kernels on the ears were uneven in size and rows- it wouldn’t have scored very high on score card at the trial grounds. It quickly spread throughout North and South America and was know as maize by many of the Native Americas.
Europeans wouldn’t get to enjoy corn until the time of Columbus and other “discoverers” in the 17th centuries. During the 18th century corn had grown into a staple food for Native cultures in the Americas and Africa. It became a favored food and people stopped eating a diversified diet. This led to a big problem – pellagra – a vicious wasting and thirsty syndrome. Corn lacks niacin and the vitamin is essential to health. Adding foods high in niacin like legumes and wheat germ back into the diet balance their diets back out. This problem is solved in classical menus or dishes that use the “three sisters” a combination of corn, a legume and a hard fleshed squash.
Today, corn has suffered horribly at the hands of some humans. Corn is one of the most genetically modified foods, it’s been heavily sprayed with pesticides. It’s fallen prey to bio-piracy – the process of developing seeds that terminate or control of a seed by a company or entity making it impossible for farmers to replant their own seeds. It’s heavily subsidized and grown, in some cases, for all the wrong reasons.
Labeling confusion – is corn a grain or vegetable?
Both. When corn is fresh it is considered a vegetable, when dried it falls into the grains category.
Western nutritional profile
Corn is relatively high in fiber. One cup of corn contains about 4 grams of fiber which is essential for weight management, colon health, and to regulate cholesterol and blood sugar.
Corn has ample amounts of the B vitamins, vitamin C, and magnesium. It contains the antioxidants, carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin.
The Asian/Chinese energetics of corn
Corn’s neutral temperature and sweet flavor put it smack in the Earth Element food category.
Drains dampness and regulates water – Corn has diuretic properties (especially the cornsilk) and regulates water pathways, drains dampness so use if for any edema or swelling.
Regulates digestion and stimulates the appetite – Add corn to your diet if you have slow, weak digestion or lack an appetite.
Nourishes the Heart and calms the Shen – It’s a truly happy food. Corn nourishes and protects the physical heart and calms the mind so it benefits anxious and nervous people.
Enters the Bladder and Kidneys – It helps regulate all genitourinary conditions and low sex drive.
Ways to use corn
- Fresh off the cob when in season – 3 minutes in boiling water or consider grilling it. Be sure to have a little cornsilk with it.
- Use frozen or canned corn in soups, stews, salsa, salads
- Eat polenta or cornbread
- Drink cornsilk tea
But corn is a carbohydrate! Yes, corn is a complex carbohydrate – something we need for our bodies ability to maintain muscle strength, energy, blood sugar balance and bowel health. Although it is wise to limit refined carbohydrates like sweets and breads, complex carbohydrates that come from whole grains, legumes and vegetables are essential.
What I’ve seen is that any diet that eliminates them or over avoidance of complex carbohydrates may lead to extreme fatigue, elevated liver enzyme counts and collapse of muscle tenacity and strength, so be cautious.
Here’s to your happy heart.