Seasonal Ingredient: Sweet Corn

by | Aug 7, 2020 | Article | 0 comments

Photo: D.Marius on Unsplash

 

As a child growing up in Minnesota, I still recall being so excited when sweet corn came into season so we could feast on it at our lake cabin.  We’d swim and play all day, then gobble up several cobs at dinner time.  It was so good!  Even now, sweet corn truly is a mark of summer for me, and I look forward to its appearance at farmers markets each year.

Corn is unusual in that it is used as both a vegetable and a grain.  Generally, corn on or off the cob is used as a vegetable, with the dried popcorn kernels or ground flour considered a whole grain.  Known as “maize” in many parts of the world, corn originated in Mexico over 9,000 years ago.  Later, it came to be a main food source for Native Americans in North America, and was shared with European settlers in the late 1700’s.  Today, it is popular all across the USA, but especially in southern states and cuisine.

Nutritionally, corn is loaded with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that support vision, heart health, weight loss and digestion. The nutrients in corn also lower the risk of diabetes and colon cancer.

SELECT
It’s hard to beat the fresh picked sweet corn found at farmers markets and roadside stands, although many grocery stores feature locally grown sweet corn in season. Depending on where you live, the season may start as early as late June and last well into September. You may find varieties in various colors – yellow, white, bi-color (yellow and white), red, blue or purple.

Look for plump, fresh-cut green ears with brown silk tops.  The husks should feel soft, not dried out, and the silk should be slightly moist, similar in feel to grass. If you can see the kernels, they should be firm and shiny.  Buy fresh sweet corn without the husks pulled back, however, as the kernels begins to dry out once shucked.

Sweet corn is also available frozen and canned for longer term storage and use.  Frozen sweet corn has high nutritional value, just as fresh.  Canned corn can be high in sodium so check the nutritional labels.

 

STORE
For the freshest experience, it is best to use sweet corn the same day it is purchased.  Otherwise, refrigerate the ears in the husks for up to 2 days.  Keep fresh corn in the husks until you are ready to cook it.  For longer term storage, corn can be blanched or fully cooked and cut off of the cob, then refrigerated or frozen.  Cooked corn lasts for 3 – 5 days in the refrigerator, and blanched corn freezes well for 8 – 12 months.

For further information on freezing sweet corn, check out these resources:

 

COOKING and USE
Steam, boil, grill, microwave or roast sweet corn – it’s a very versatile food.  Serve it on or off the cob in the traditional fashion with melted butter and salt, or dress it up with:

  • seasoned salt
  • roasted garlic and herb butter
  • spice or herb blends
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Mexican-style – mayonnaise, chili powder and cotija cheese
  • Greek yogurt, feta cheese and fresh herbs

Cut off the cob, sweet corn can be used in so many ways. Give it a major role as an entree or use it as a complimentary ingredient in soups, stews, chilis, salads and other vegetable side dishes, baked goods and desserts, such as:

  • roasted corn and black bean salsa
  • taco salad
  • meat or vegetarian bowls
  • fritters
  • muffins, corn bread or griddle cakes
  • souffles
  • chowder
  • creamed or scalloped corn
  • succotash
  • pasta salad
  • sweet corn ice cream
  • cookies
  • pudding

Dried corn can be ground to make cornmeal or into flour to make tortillas.  And, who can forget almost everyone’s favorite snack – popcorn!

 

TIPS:

  • One ear of sweet corn yields anywhere from ½ cup to 1 cup of kernels.
  • When boiling sweet corn, do not add salt to the water. Salt can make the kernels tough.
  • To remove kernels from the cob, insert the tip of the ear of corn into the center hole of a Bundt pan, then cut down the length of the cob allowing the kernels to fall into the pan.
  • Don’t have a Bundt pan? Hold the cob of corn upright but at a slight angle in a large bowl. Cut down the sides of the cob so the kernels fall into the bowl.

 

FUN FACTS

  • In many Latin American countries, sweet corn is traditionally paired with beans or peas, which creates a complete protein. It is also oftentimes added to salads, stews, and rice dishes.
  • In Europe, sweet corn can be found as a topping for pizza, added to salads or used in cream sauces.
  • The Cameron highlands region of Malaysia grows a unique sweet corn variety called “pearl corn” for its glossy white kernels. It can be eaten raw or cooked.

 

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