Sweet corn

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Sweet corn (Zea mays convar. saccharata var. rugosa;[1] also called Indian corn, sugar corn, and pole corn) is a variety of maize with a high sugar content and prepared as a vegetable. Sweet corn is the result of a naturally occurring recessive mutation in the genes which control conversion of sugar to starch inside the endosperm of the corn kernel. Unlike field corn varieties, which are harvested when the kernels are dry and mature (dent stage), sweet corn is picked when immature (milk stage) and eaten as a vegetable, rather than a grain. Since the process of maturation involves converting sugar into starch, sweet corn stores poorly and must be eaten fresh, canned, or frozen before the kernels become tough and starchy.

Contents

History

Sweet corn occurs as a spontaneous mutation in field corn and was grown by several Native American tribes. The Iroquois gave the first recorded sweet corn (called Papoon) to European settlers in 1779.[2] It soon became a popular vegetable in southern and central regions of the United States.

Open pollinated varieties of white sweet corn started to become widely available in the United States in the 19th century. Two of the most enduring varieties, still available today, are Country Gentleman (a Shoepeg corn with small, white kernels in irregular rows) and Stowell's Evergreen.

Sweet corn production in the 20th century was influenced by the following key developments:

  • hybridization allowed for more uniform maturity, improved quality and disease resistance
  • identification of the separate gene mutations responsible for sweetness in corn and the ability to breed varieties based on these characteristics:
    • su (normal sugary)
    • se (sugary enhanced, originally called Everlasting Heritage)
    • sh2 (shrunken-2)[3]

There are currently hundreds of varieties, with more constantly being developed.

Anatomy

The fruit of the sweet corn plant is the corn kernel, a type of fruit called a caryopsis. The ear is a collection of kernels on the cob. Because corn is a monocot, there is always an even number of rows of kernels.[further explanation needed] The ear is covered by tightly wrapped leaves called the husk. Silk is the name for the pistillate flowers, which emerge from the husk. The husk and silk are removed by hand, before boiling but not before roasting, in a process called husking or shucking.

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