Types of Corn

Photo from Purdue University
What do you think of when you look at a corn field? Popcorn? Corn flakes? Sweet corn? Did you know that popcorn and sweet corn come from different plants? The following are common types of corn, with the scientific name following the common name. After reading through see if you can answer the questions at the bottom!

  • Flint (Zea mays indurata)
      Flint corn, also known as Indian corn, is used for similar purposes as dent corn. Flint corn is distinguished by a hard outer shell and kernals with a range of colors from white to red. (You can remember that it has a very hard exterior by thinking of flint, the stone.) Today, most flint corn is grown in Central and South America.
    1. Sweet (Zea saccharata or Zea rugosa)
        Sweet corn is primarily eaten on the cob, or it can be canned or frozen for future consumption. Sweet corn is seldom used for feed or flour. Sweet corn is extra sweet because it contains more natural sugars than other types of corn. (Field corn contains 4% sugar at the same stage standard sweet corn contains 10% sugar.) Almost 50% of the sugar can be converted to starch only 24 hours after sweet corn is picked, so it is best to eat it fresh!
          POP! Facts:

          In 1996, 119,400 acres of sweet corn were grown in the United States.

      1. Flour (Zea mays amylacea)
          Flour corn is used in baked goods because it has a soft, starch-filled, kernal that is easy to grind. Flour corn is primarily white, although it can be grown in other colors, for example, blue corn. One of the oldest types of corn, flour corn was a chief type grown by Native Americans .
        1. Popcorn (Zea mays everta)
            Popcorn, a type of flint corn, has a soft starchy center surrounded by a very hard exterior shell. When popcorn is heated the natural moisture inside the kernal turns to steam that builds up enough pressure for the kernal to explode. When the kernal explodes the white starchy mass that you like to eat forms. All types of corn will pop to some degree, but they won't necessarily have enough starch to turn inside out, or an outside layer that will create enough pressure to explode . One of the oldest forms of corn, evidence of popcorn from 3600 B.C. was found in New Mexico! Sing a little Popcorn Song !!

          To learn more about popcorn you might want to visit the Popcorn Museum, in Marion, Ohio or the Cracker Jackiana section of the Center for Science and Industry, in Columbus, Ohio.

          • What is the difference between popcorn and other corn varieties?

          • Purchase a few different types of corn kernals at your local farm supply store. Make a hypothesis about what you think will happen when you pop the different types of corn. Pop the corn and record your results.

          • What is sweet corn? How is it different from field corn?

          • What are two primary uses of corn?
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