The Ecology of Humans (51-6) Corn


Maize is known in North America as corn. The leafy stalks of this large grass produce ears filled with seeds called kernels. Though a grain, corn is generally considered a vegetable.

Maize has been a domestic crop since prehistoric times, perhaps as early as 8000 bce. It was first grown in south-central Mexico. By 5000 bce, the crop was grown throughout much of Mesoamerica and northern South America.

Corn is a decent source of dietary fiber. It also offers antioxidants and phytonutrients that help keep aging eyes healthy. While corn is good for you, it is also a reminder to eat a variety of foods. A diet in which maize predominates often results in pellagra (niacin-deficiency disease).

Culinary inspiration has metamorphosed maize into numerous edible forms. Most popular is popcorn: certain maize varieties whose dried seeds explode when heated. Popcorn is often lavished with butter and salted, turning it into a nutritional hazard.

Dried corn soaked in an alkaline solution and hulled before cooking – nixtamalization – turns maize into hominy. In the southeastern US, coarsely ground hominy becomes the side dish grits; handed down from native Americans, who put hominy in a stew called sagamite.

The Brazilian dessert canjica is made by boiling maize in sweetened milk.

A cooked ear of fresh maize – corn on the cob – is popular in North America, parts of South America, the United Kingdom, Cyprus, and the Balkans, but unheard-of in several European countries.