Please Pass the Corn


Corn (Zea mays) gets a pretty bad rap these days, but it seems to me it's just another innocent caught up in money web of big agribusiness.

A cereal grain (and it seems that grains have all of a sudden become the enemy of health), seemingly first domesticated in southern Mexico a few thousand years ago, corn has become a staple food in many parts of the world. It is really easy to grow across a wide range of climates, and as new and sweeter varieties have been bred to replace starchy maize types, the sweetcorn branch of the family has become more and more popular. 

One reason it is easy to grow is because immature corn shoots accumulate a powerful antibiotic substance called 2,4-dihydroxy-7-methoxy-1,4-benzoxazin-3-one. Say that in one breath! This gives the young corn a natural defense against a wide range of pests, including insects, pathogenic fungi and bacteria. Mine usually grows fine without any intervention or special help. We (and you) sometimes get a few Heliothis mays grubs in the cobs (extra protein for the non-veggo's?), and a few years ago we had a bit of the ugly corn smut - a pathogenic fungal disease that Mexicans love to eat as the delicacy "huitlacoche'.

Nutritionally, corn in its natural state is a winner for us. About 76% water, 19% carbohydrates, 3% protein (essential amino acids tryptophan and lysine), and 1% fat. A good source of B vitamins, thiamin, niacin, pantothenic acid (B5) and folate, magnesium and phosphorus, and lots of handy dietary fiber to keep you and yours regular!

But most corn - and I am told that more corn is grown than both wheat and rice - is not eaten at the table. Most is used as animal feed or to make corn products such as ethanol (~40%), corn starch and corn syrup.

High fructose corn syrup is one of those products that has driven big agribusiness to grow tens of millions of acres of corn annually. This product is found in many manufactured foods, and has been linked to many health problems. Sadly it follows the common story of a natural and healthy molecule present in natural food in small amounts that becomes a curse when it is refined and concentrated.  

That and the fact that the majority of corn grown in Australia and other western countries is GMO (28 different GMO corn lines have been approved in Australia by the big players Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow and Pioneer) should have us checking the labels on everything we put in our shopping trolleys. But you can safely assume that whenever a corn derivitive is on the label, it is most probably GMO.

Conclusion? Sweet corn is good for you and your family, is best straight out of the husk popped into a pot and lightly steamed, and is yummy! If you don't grow your own, ours is the next best thing!