Corn is a delicious starchy vegetable that is loved by millions of people, and if you’re wondering if it is man-made, the answer is yes. While the corn we eat today is a basic staple, the vegetable is a hybrid-type of veggie that is the result of much crossbreeding in the past.
Let’s take a closer look at the history of corn.
The Origins of Corn
The vegetable we know today as corn got its start 7,000-9,000 years ago, when people started selecting certain plants in order to breed them and produce certain results.
No one knows if corn was created by accident or intention, but eventually a plant was crossed with another type of grass plant, and the result was corn.
Naturally, it didn’t look like the corn we have today, but it was a start. All of this happened in central Mexico in an area that we now call the Tehuacan Valley.
They called this new plant maize, and the second-generation maize was called teosinte, which truly did look like a grass plant because it had small green shoots in it.
Soon, the maize looked a lot like the corn we eat today. By the time Columbus arrived in 1492, corn was a basic staple throughout the hemisphere, with indigenous peoples depending on the dried type of corn for the cold winter months.
People took the husks of the corn and made moccasins, baskets, mats, and many other items necessary for survival.
Settlers eventually reached the New England area of the U.S. and worked with the people there to learn how best to grow the corn.
It was the Europeans in this area that first called the crop “corn,” which is a European word that refers to other foods as well, including rye, wheat, barley, and oats. Working together, the Europeans and the new settlers devised ways to make corn more durable and tasty, not to mention faster to grow.
By the 1570s, corn had been introduced to areas that include Spain, Italy, France, and even Indonesia, China, and North Africa.
Today, corn is enjoyed all over the world, and the number-one producer of corn is the U.S., with China and Brazil being number two and three, respectively. But that wasn’t until around 1900 when corn started being produced in a commercial manner and sold to the public.
Where and When Was Corn First Commercially Grown?
While corn was officially a “product” before 1900, it wasn’t until around 1908 that corn was crossbred for the specific purpose of making it commercially available.
In the 1930s, several companies began to produce hybrid corn in an attempt to make it better, and by the early 1940s, roughly half of the corn production in the U.S. was planted with hybrid seeds. By 1950, that number had increased to 90%.
Most of these things happened in the United States in states that still produce a lot of corn today, such as Wisconsin and Indiana.
There was a lot of trial and error during those years, which included not only changes in the crop itself but also the addition of certain equipment, which made growing corn a lot easier.
In the mid-1940s after WWII ended, the agricultural boom in the U.S. enabled several different varieties of corn to appear on the scene.
This also meant that corn started to become more commercially available throughout the United States, not just in the Midwestern “corn belt.”
Types of Corn Available Today
Today, there are a lot of different types of corn, but below are the six main types:
1. Dent Corn
In the majority of corn fields in the U.S., you’ll find crops of dent corn. It gets its name because of the tiny dent or dimple that is found at the end of each of the kernels after it dries.
Most corn-based animal feeds contain this type of corn, so dent corn is used to feed both humans and animals.
2. Flint Corn
Grown frequently in South and Central America, flint corn is so named because it is relatively hard, like a flintstone.
It’s been around for a long time and has kernels of many different colors, so it’s easy to recognize.
3. Flour Corn
Flour corn is very soft and starchy, and it is used mostly for grinding flour, hence its name. Both the shell of the corn and the starches inside are considered “soft,” which is the main reason it is not usually eaten as it is.
4. Pod Corn
Don’t get too excited about this type of corn because it is actually a mutant that isn’t meant to be eaten. Each kernel is wrapped in small leaves called glumes, which is why it is almost impossible to process and to eat.
Everyone loves popcorn, and this is a special type of corn grown just to make popcorn. It is a type of flint corn and when steam is built up after the outer shell traps moisture in the kernels, the kernels then pop and you get popcorn!
6. Sweet Corn
As opposed to other types of corn, which are usually picked at maturity, sweet corn is picked when it’s young and in the “milk” stage. This is the reason why it is so sweet and delicious, and there are different types of sweet corn as well.
Do Natural Corn Varieties Still Exist?
Today, the corn we eat has been modified and grown to be what it is now, and finding corn growing in the wild is rather difficult. Teosinte corn, from which corn originated centuries ago, still grows in the wild in certain places, but don’t assume finding it is easy.
Stalks of “wild” corn are hard to find, and if you do find it, you certainly don’t want to bring it home with you and eat it. Wild corn is generally not made to be edible and most of the time tastes pretty bad.
Best Varieties of Corn to Grow at Home
There are dozens of corn types you can successfully grow at home. Corn is not difficult to grow as long as you live in the right growing zone and you follow the directions carefully. Even if you’re a newbie, here are some corn varieties that should be easy for you to grow:
1. SU (Sugary Corn)
This is a very common home-grown type of corn. It doesn’t have a long shelf life, but if you find the letters SU on the seed packet, just know that this is a perfect corn to grow at home.
2. SE (Sweet Corn)
This is a very sweet corn that is also crisp and tender. SE stands for “sugar extended,” and it grows best in warm climates.
3. SH2 (Super-Sweet Corn)
This corn is a little harder to grow than the other types, but it can keep in the fridge for about a week after you pick it.
Corn is indeed a man-made product, even though it’s been around for nearly 10,000 years. Mexico was the first area to experiment with types of grass plants that produced corn. Today, there are six main types of corn, and let’s not forget most people’s favorite – popcorn!
I am an accredited practicing dietitian, experienced gardener and a dedicated cook. I love writing and sharing my experience so you can learn from my successes and mistakes.