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Extension > Food > Farm to School > Minnesota Toolkit for School Foodservice > Promoting Food > Promoting Sweet Corn

Promoting Sweet Corn

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Cool Stuff About Sweet Corn!

Did you know that corn — also called maize — has existed as a species for about 7,000 years, and is known to have been cultivated by humans for about 4,000 years? However, sweet corn has been around for only a little over 200 years. Sweet corn is sweeter and more tender than field corn thanks to a "sugary" gene. Fresh sweet corn is a good source of complex carbohydrates and contains some protein.

Minnesota farmers pick sweet corn every day when it is in season. They pick sweet corn early in the morning when temperatures are cool, because warm temperatures speed the change of sugar to starch. Fresh corn on the cob will lose up to 40% of its sugar content after 6 hours of room temperature storage, and will gradually lose sugar content even if it is refrigerated. This is one reason why fresh, local sweet corn tastes better than anything that has been shipped in from far away.

Did you know the average ear of corn has 800 kernels, arranged in 16 rows, with one piece of silk for each kernel?

You can pick up some corn with your family at the local farmer’s market or FARM NAME and eat it fresh from the cob or eat local sweet corn using the recipe in this month’s newsletter. Today at lunch, you will have the opportunity to sample sweet corn in FOOD ITEM from FARM NAME/CITY and because it is fresh, it will taste sweet and not tough or starchy!

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In [MONTH] your child tried [FOOD ITEM] with locally grown sweet corn from [FARM NAME] in [CITY] . Prepare this delicious recipe with your family and ask your child(ren) if they can answer the following trivia questions.

  1. Corn has been cultivated for about 4,000 years, but how long has sweet corn been around?
  2. Why do Minnesota farmers pick sweet corn in the morning?
  3. How many kernels are on the average ear of corn? How many rows? How many pieces of silk?

Trivia Answers

  1. Just over 200 years.
  2. Temperatures are cooler in the morning. Warm temperatures speed the conversion of sugar to starch. Fresh corn on the cob will lose up to 40% of its sugar content after 6 hours of room temperature storage. This is one reason why fresh, local sweet corn tastes better than corn that has traveled long distances.
  3. The average ear of corn has 800 kernels, typically arranged in 16 rows, with one piece of silk for each kernel!
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History and Origin

  • Corn — also called maize — has existed as a species for about 7,000 years, and is known to have been cultivated by humans for about 4,000 years. The scientific name for corn is Zea mays. Corn's immediate ancestor is a Mexican grain called teosinte.
  • In the early days of cultivation, corn was starchy and had a tough texture. We refer to this as field corn. This type is still widely grown and used for cattle feed, ground into meal and processed into cereal and other foods.
  • Sweet corn has been around for only about 200 years, when people discovered corn that had the "sugary" gene and developed sweet corn varieties. Before sweet corn became widely available, field corn was often picked at an immature stage and cooked as a vegetable.

Nutrition

  • Sweet corn is a good source of folate, which may prevent birth defects and heart disease.
  • Yellow varieties of sweet corn supply the antioxidant beta carotene, which may help prevent some cancer.
  • Fresh sweet corn also provides thiamin, niacin and magnesium.

Did you know…?

  • Corn always has an even number of rows on each ear.
  • Sweet corn comes from the maize family. Its scientific name is Zea mays. Other types of maize, or corn, are used as flour to make some types of bread and breakfast cereals. Popcorn is also a type of maize.
  • Cornstarch is used in the production of spark plugs!
  • Sweet corn is sold by color rather than variety. Colors are: white, yellow, and bi-color (white and yellow mixed).
  • Sweet corn varieties were white until the early 20th century when a yellow variety called Golden Bantam was developed.
  • For the best quality, sweet corn should be harvested in the milk stage when the juice inside the kernels is white and sweet. If harvested earlier, the corn lacks flavor; and if picked later, it is tough and starchy.

How to Eat Sweet Corn

  • Fresh on the cob, boiled in water for about 5 minutes.
  • Corn kernels can be cut off the cobs, cooked and served as a vegetable or added to salads, casseroles, crepes, or pancakes
  • Roasted in a fire pit, in an oven or on the grill, with the husks left on during the roasting.

The above information was compiled from:

www.extension.umn.edu/garden/fruit-vegetable/sweet-corn/
www.ipmcenters.org/CropProfiles/docs/MNfieldcorn.html
www.mda.state.mn.us/news/publications/kids/maitc/corn.pdf
http://www.5aday.co.nz/resources.html?id=281

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Tasting Poster (592 K PDF)

Table Top Trifold (656 K PDF)

Index Card (432 K PDF)

Photos

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Right-click on an image's caption to save a larger, print-ready version of the photo to your computer. Choose "Save link as ..." or "Save target as ..." or "Save image as ..." from the pop-up menu that will appear.

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sweet corn ears

Sweet Corn Ears, Partly Husked

photo by Kent Lorentzen
Grand Rapids Farmers' Market
bicolor sweet corn

Bicolor Sweet Corn

photo by Brett Olson
Renewing the Countryside
basket of sweet corn

Basket of Sweet Corn

photo by Brett Olson
Renewing the Countryside

 

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Note that many of these resources deal with "corn" in a general sense, rather than focusing exclusively on sweet corn.

  • National Corn Growers Association provides corn lessons by subject: Science, Math, Language Arts, Social Studies, Music, Dance, Art , Current Events, Multidisciplinary, History, Geography.
  • The Great Corn Adventure In the Great Corn Adventure students will learn:
    The history of corn.
    Corn is an important grain around the world.
    How corn grows and its various stages of growth.
    How corn is harvested.
    The many uses of corn.
    (this website also has links to other sweet corn resources you may find useful.)
  • "Camp Silos" The Story of Corn Educational material about many different aspects of corn from the Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area in northeast Iowa
  • Corn Ears for Genetics Corn an excellent choice for introducing students to Mendelian inheritances. This would be a great resource for a high school biology class.

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