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What Makes Corn Sweet ? Here’s What’s Really In It

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Corn has always been viewed as sweet, or at least mildly sweet. And not many people know, but there are different kinds of corn, each with varying degrees of sweetness. The sweetest is sweet corn, with the least sweet being dent corn, meant for livestock feed. 

But what makes corn sweet, regardless of type ? And how did sweet corn become so sweet ? Why don’t our bodies digest corn ? Let’s find out !

corn sweet

What makes corn sweet ?

Corn is sweet because it is usually picked when still immature, and the sugars in it have not had time to turn into starches. Mature corn is less sweet them immature (milk or silk) corn. This young corn is sweet and tender, and each of the six main types of corn is significantly sweeter if picked young.

This also means that after harvesting, corn rapidly loses its sweetness and hardens, as the sugar turns to starch. This is the same thing that happens in peas. The more corn sits around after being harvested, the harder it gets and the more difficult it is to cook it.

Sweet corn is the result of a recessive gene

Sweet corn came as a result of a recessive gene that tells the corn to produce more sugar than usual. This recessive gene had been isolated and encouraged to develop in most crops by Native Americans. In 1779 sweet corn was one of the gifts the Iroquois gave to European settlers. 

So sweet corn goes way back, and has been the corn most of us have grown up with. It’s the corn that was brought back to Europe, all the back to the Columbus era, known in Europe as maize. 

Read also: Why Is Chicken Skin Yellow ?

Lack of starch means sweet corn doesn’t store well

Since sweet corn is picked when still immature, it does not have enough starch to store well (like during the winter). This means that nearly all sweet corn is found canned, frozen, creamed, grilled, or simply sold on the cob to be boiled at home.

Because sweet corn is so sweet, it provides a nice twist to almost anything, from pizza to salads to stews. Creamed corn is probably one of the best sweet corn dishes out there.

Does sweet corn become popcorn ?

No, sweet corn does not become popcorn because the kernels are too soft and immature to properly pop and produce popcorn, Instead, popcorn comes from a type of corn specifically bred for this purpose. This is because the moisture content inside a popcorn kernel should be 14-20% (before popping). Sweet corn simply has much more moisture and not enough starch to pop.

Can you make popcorn with any corn ?

No, you need a specific type of corn kernel to make popcorn. Aside from the moisture content inside (14-20%), you also need a very hard outer shell for the pop to happen. The only corn ready for this is popcorn corn, specifically bred for this. 

Don’t worry about finding any other corn types in the supermarket and mistakenly popping them. Corn means for livestock or flour or starch or corn syrup do not even reach store shelves.

Sweet corn is always in a sort of packaging, be it a can, or a frozen bag. And the only corn kernels that are sold as-is, dried corn kernels, are popcorn kernels. So whenever you’re buying corn to pop, it’s always popcorn. 

pop corn

Field corn vs sweet corn

You may be wondering what the main differences are between the sweet corn we generally eat, and the field corn is grown for livestock. And you may also be wondering if all the corn fields you see on a road trip are sweet or not. Well, here are some of the main differences.

First, sweet corn has a recessive gene that simply allows it to produce more sugar. Field corn is also known as dent corn, and it’s not particularly sweet like sweet corn. 

Second, sweet corn is picked when still immature, so in its milk stage. Field corn is mildly sweet too when in this stage, but not nearly as sweet as sweet corn. This doesn’t mean you can’t eat field corn that is picked immature, but it does mean it will be denser and not as sweet. 

And finally, field corn is allowed to ripen and mature on the cob. This makes it a very dense type of corn that would require ridiculous amount of heat and pressure to be edible for humans. Instead, field corn is used partly for livestock feed and partly to be processed into corn syrup. 

Sweet corn is picked when still immature, which allows it to remain tender and sweet.

Why don’t we digest corn ?

All corn has a certain amount of plant fiber, and that fiber is actually cellulose, the same fiber paper is made of. This is a type of fiber that simply cannot be digested by our bodies in any way, so it passes through unchanged. Sweet corn is more tender compared to other corn types, but it’s still very difficult for the stomach to completely break down. 

This does not mean your body will not take anything from the corn you eat. It will absorb the nutrients from the corn kernels your teeth have broken, but the corn kernels that escape chewing will remain whole. This also happens with tomato and bell pepper skins. 

A good amount of dietary fiber is actually good for the gut, as it promotes a healthy bowel movement, and prevents constipation. However, too much corn can mean too much fiber, and the result is in gastrointestinal issues, starting with constipation. 

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