Field corn, or maize, has been grown in Central America and Mexico for centuries. It was an important food source for Mesoamerica’s early tribal settlers where it grew as a field grass with edible seed buds. Though field corn is now produced primarily for animal feed, cooking oils, and producing ethanol, it was the precursor to what we call ‘sweet’ corn.
Sweet corn is a genetic mutation of field corn that causes kernels to store more starch. During the growing cycle, the conversion of sugar to starch is slowed and moisture is retained, leading to a sweeter taste.
Sweet corn in the United States was grown in the Southwest and in the colonies by the mid-1700s, where it was cultivated by European settlers. The earliest commercial variety, called ‘Papoon,’ was reportedly acquired from the Iroquois in 1779. Today, this vegetable remains a staple of the fresh market, especially in the summer months, and is equally sought after as a frozen and canned product. California, Florida, Georgia, New York, and Washington are top domestic producers.
References: Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, NC State Extension, PennState Extension, University of Arizona, USDA.
TYPES, VARIETIES & CUTS
Sweet corn comes in three kernel colors: yellow, white, and bicolor (though a blue-kernel variety pioneered by the Iroquois still exists). In recent decades, Supersweet hybrids have become more prevalent, as these varieties offer a sweeter flavor, higher resistance to disease, and longer shelf life. Common sweet corn varieties include Butter and Sugar, Cotton Candy, Honey and Cream, Illini Gold, Jubilee, Kandy Korn, Maple Sweet, Peaches and Cream, Pearl White, Silver Queen, Snow White, Sundance, and Tuxedo.
References: Cornell University, Michigan State University Extension, Purdue University, University of Illinois Extension, USDA.