What is sweet corn?
Hot, buttery corn on the cob is an all-time favourite with children and adults alike. Also popular is a fresh Mexican tortilla wrapped around sweet corn, refried beans and coriander leaves – a fine example of complementary flavours and nutrition. Other classic favourites are Chinese chicken and sweet corn soup or stir-fries with crunchy baby corn.
Corn is native to the Americas, originating in Mexico thousands of years ago. It played a substantial part in the diet of the Mayans, Aztecs, Incas and Native North Americans. Christopher Columbus introduced it to Spain and it eventually spread to other parts of Europe.
In Australia, this crop was planted in 1791 and has been a common sight in markets for many years.
Yellow, white, bicolour or spotted (corn with a mix of yellow and white kernels) and baby corn is available in Australia. Baby corn is the same type of sweet corn as the normal variety, but is picked at an early stage of growth.
Why sweet corn is good to eat
Sweet corn is a good source of vitamins C, B1 (thiamine) and B3 (niacin).
It also contains minerals such as potassium (which helps to regulate blood pressure) and manganese (involved in the regulation of brain and nerve function).
Sweet corn is an excellent source of dietary fibre, which is important for a healthy bowel.
Energy – 100 g of sweet corn supplies 395 kJ.
How are they grown and harvested?
Sweet corn plants grow best in warm and dry climates. The plant can grow up to 2 m and needs plenty of water. Sweet corn is planted from seed.
Sweet corn is pollinated by the wind. A ‘tassel’ grows at the top of the plant. This is the male part of the plant that produces pollen. The pollen falls onto the ‘silks’ or female part of the plant that emerge from the husk or the tightly wrapped leaves and which look like fine, long threads. Corn kernels will not form if pollen does not fall onto the silk.
Sweet corn is ready to harvest in 70 to 100 days (depending on the variety). At harvest time, the end of the corn is usually round or blunt (rather than pointy) and the silks start to dry up. Corn is harvested by snapping it off at the stalk of the plant.
Baby corn is harvested and processed by hand at an earlier stage. Harvesting of baby corn occurs within two days of the silks emerging. At this stage, the corn is 4–10 cm long and 1–1.5 cm in diameter. Harvesting baby corn is very labour-intensive.
Choosing sweet corn
Choose sweet corn that has bright green husks and pale silks. The corn kernels should be round, shiny and plump and not dry or shrivelled. Avoid sweet corn with husks that are yellowing, spotted or damaged and silks that are dark brown (this indicates that the corn is old).
How to store and keep sweet corn
Store sweet corn (protected by its husk) in the crisper section of your fridge. Use within two days of buying.
How to use
- Toss sweet corn on a barbeque – remove the husk and silk when cooked and slather with garlic butter and sprinkle with ground paprika if you like a spicy kick.
- Make a spicy sweet corn soup – sauté onion and garlic, add corn kernels and stock, blend in a food processor and add spiced butter (butter, ground cumin seeds, pepper and chopped parsley) before serving.
- Enjoy sweet corn fritters for brunch – make a batter of flour, butter, egg yolk and milk, mix with corn kernels, then fry in batches until crispy and golden.
- Steam baby corn and serve as a side dish – toss with butter and freshly chopped herbs (try tarragon, parsley and chives).
This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by:
Better Health Channel
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