The History of Corn

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Prior to the European encounter with the “New World,” corn played a central role in both the lives and diets of Native Americans. Numerous religious rituals and beliefs revolved around corn. Still today, corn continues to be a constant presence in the lives and diets of all Americans. Corn touches us in ways we might not even realize. Most of us eat corn everyday whether we consume corn in its natural form or in meats, soft drinks, or sweets. From thousands of years ago to the present day, corn has sustained and continues to sustain human life.

Maize and corn can be used interchangeably. Maize was the term used by the Tainos who greeted Columbus in the Caribbean. Its literal meaning is “that which sustains life.” Maize soon became part of the Spanish vocabulary and then spread to other European languages. The word corn is actually a generic term for grain as used in Old English. American-style English has adapted the word to refer exclusively to maize. This usage continues today.

There are hundreds of varieties of corn, however, there are just five basic families: flint, dent, popcorn, soft corn, and sweet corn. Flint corn was the type preferred in the northern states and was used in cornmeal that made dense breads and johnnycakes. It is a low yielding corn and because of demand, dent corn is replacing its production. Dent corn gets its name from its dimpled kernels. It is now the most commonly grown commercial corn and produces the traditional southern starchy sweet cornmeal. Popcorn is one we are all familiar with. When heated in hot oil, its starchy inner core bursts through it shrinking outer skin. Soft corn is not grown on a commercial scale, but is grown by specialists. It is the corn that was m...

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... of microwave popcorn during commercial breaks of our favorite shows. The power is right at our fingertips.

Though corn has always been part of the American diet, it has infiltrated areas of food and other goods that seem unlikely for it to belong. It can be altered to be present in both foods and products not for human consumption. Corn really can be labeled as the crop that built America. It definitely has many uses. Some could argue that it has too many uses.

Works Cited:

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Maize in Human Nutrition. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2011.

Fussell, Betty. The Story of Corn. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, INC., December 15, 2004.

Wallace, Henry A. and William L. Brown. Corn and Its Early Fathers Revised Edition.

Ames, Iowa: Iowa University Press, 2012.

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