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Lynn Hummel: Aw, shucks - corn is amazing

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What goes through your mind while you’re shucking 12 perfect ears of sweet corn out on your deck on a beautiful summer evening? 

On the third day, the Earth produced all kinds of plants, those that bear grain, including corn, and those that bear fruit.  And it was good.

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The Native Americans knew all about corn.  They called it maize.  They planted it, raised it, picked it and ate it.  It was sweet and it was good.  The birds and animals, domestic and wild, large and small, ate corn too —and thought it was good.

When Christopher Columbus arrived, and the colonists after him, they found the Native Americans (they called them Indians) raising and eating this maize crop and recognized a grain not grown in Europe.

They ate it and enjoyed it. Eventually, the good word and some seed corn (probably stolen) found their way back to Europe so that thousands more could appreciate this wonderful discovery from the New World. 

What is it that makes corn wonderful? We are still discovering the many wonders in a kernel of corn. The most obvious, of course, is the absolute delight in eating fresh corn on the cob. But there is so much more. 

There are 4,200 uses for corn, from food products to industrial products.  There is corn in your chewing gum, pizza dough, doughnuts, pancakes, hominy grits, ice cream, corndogs, tacos, peanut butter, salad dressing, frosting, soft drinks, corn flakes, corn chips (my favorite) and grain.  And, of course, popcorn popped in corn oil.  If you like whiskey, you’re supporting corn producers.

The industrial uses are amazing.  There is corn in soap, insecticides, antibiotics, deodorants, cough drops, aspirin, plastics, vitamin c, tires, batteries, ceramics, abrasives, penicillin and glue.  One of the most important of all corn products is BABY POWDER. And of course, one of the primary feed grains for hogs, cattle and poultry is corn.

Further, without corn there would be no corncob pipes, corncob fuel or corncob fertilizer. 

To me, one of the most fascinating applications of corn is in the production of the bio-fuel, ethanol.  Over 23 percent of the corn produced in the U.S. is used for ethanol.

That is because each kernel of corn is packed with energy.  Atomic energy.  Nuclear energy.  A few plants can manufacture as much energy from the same quantities of sunlight, water and the elements as corn.  Ninety-seven percent of what a corn plant produces comes from the air and only three percent from the ground.  Corn takes in more carbon than any other plant, and is higher in energy content.

As a result, each kernel is a miniature powerhouse.  However, it needs to be said that the refinement of corn into ethanol probably requires more energy than it produces. 

For all these reasons, corn is a big deal. It is a staple of the global food supply, and happily, over 40 percent of the world’s corn is produced right here in the U.S.

So hats off to the corn producers of America.  But, three tips on the use of corn: Corncob pipes are best used without tobacco; corn whiskey is best used in moderation; and eating corn on the cob in public is not advised for men with mustaches.

Think about it the next time you shuck a dozen ears of sweet corn.

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