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Corn, a Food and So Much More!

Diagram of Corn

Corn on the cob is delicious and popcorn is, too. We eat many foods that contain corn, such as cornflakes and cornbread. Yet, there are many foods with the hidden ingredient of corn: soft drinks, soup, chicken nuggets, French fries, pudding, catsup, and even milk!

And there are many nonfood products that are also made with corn. You might know that corn is present in fuel (ethanol), but did you know corn is also present in shampoo, crayons, diapers, toothpaste, plastics, and paint as well as many other items?

History of Corn

More than 7,000 years ago, people living in Mexico gathered a wild grain called teosinte. From this grain, corn has been cultivated to produce a valuable food source grown throughout the world. Over time the quality and quantity of the corn has increased. Hybrids (different varieties) have been developed that grow more and better corn that can withstand droughts and pests.

Types of Corn

There are 6 main kinds of corn. Dent corn grows tall and has huge ears. It is used to feed cows and pigs. It is also used in products such as fuel, plastic, corn oil, and cornstarch. Flint (Indian) corn is hearty and has kernels of different colors. Flour corn has soft kernels that are easily ground into flour for tortillas and corn chips. Pod corn is unique. Each kernel is wrapped in its own husk! Not grown for food or commercial use, pod corn is often used in research. Popcorn is the only type of corn that pops. A kernel can pop up to 3 feet in the air. Waxy corn was first grown in China. It’s used in sauces and jellies and to make glue for envelopes and boxes. Sweet corn is what we eat - tender and tasty.

Did You Know?

  • An ear of corn has 800 kernels in 16 rows. There is one piece of silk for each kernel.
  • Corn grows very fast. A stalk of corn can grow 5” in one day.
  • Iowa grows the most corn and grows more corn than most countries.
  • 40% of all processed, pre-packaged foods sold in the U.S. currently contain some processed component of corn, usually high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). 
  • An area of the Midwest is called the Corn Belt because of its perfect growing conditions.
  • Some corn based products such as disposable utensils or plastic bags are biodegradable. 

Listing of Corn's Uses
Corn Product Percentages

Check These Out!

Corn Is Maize
A simple description of how corn was discovered and used by the Indians and how it came to be an important food throughout the world.
Murray, Julie
Landau, Elaine
Examines the history, cultivation, and uses of corn.
Popcorn Plants
Kudlinski, Kathleen V.
Describes the life cycle of the popcorn plant from the time the farmer plants the seed until the kernel explodes.