Is it maize or corn?
- Maize is a grain-based food plant where the seeds, or kernels, are also known as ‘corn’, and the plant was first cultivated in Mexico, America, thousands of years ago, where the grain is a staple food.
- The scientific name of maize is Zea mays and it is from the family Poaceae, the family of true grasses.
- There are a number of different types of maize, and they are generally categorised under the names ‘sweet corn’, ‘popcorn’, ‘flour corn’, ‘flint corn’, ‘dent corn’, and ‘wild’ or ‘pod corn’.
- Approximately 600 kernels of maize form on a cob, that grows as an ‘ear’ or spear head shaped spike, on a 2.5 to 12 metre (8 to 39 feet) tall plant.
- Female flowers of maize plants produce stigmas that are like strands of hair, known as ‘silk’; and the kernels or seeds are a white, yellow, orange or red colour, while green, purple, black, and blue/grey varieties exist.
A Field of Maize
Image courtesy of Carsten Ullrich/Flickr
- The United States was the world’s top producer of maize in 2013, producing roughly 353.7 million tonnes (389.9 million tons), of a world total production of just over 1 billion tonnes (1.1 billion tons), making it the most produced cereal crop on earth.
- Depending on the type and variety, maize has different uses – sweet corn is generally cooked and eaten like a vegetable; popcorn is heated until the kernels burst providing a light weight snack, flour corn is typically ground into flour; flint and dent corn are used for animal feed and are also processed and made into products for human consumption; while pod corn is not usually used for commercial purposes.
- A protein found in maize, that fails to break down when cooked, can cause allergic reactions, with symptoms that include itchiness, rashes, asthma or vomiting, among others.
- Field corn, which includes all types of maize except for sweet corn and popcorn, accounts for at least 98% of corn crops grown in the United States, of which around 75% is used for stock feed and the production of ethanol fuel, while the rest is used to make products like breakfast cereal, corn syrup, corn starch and flour, corn chips, and other commercial products.
- The cobs of maize have been crafted into smoking pipes, and it is believed that they were made as early as the 1860s in the United States, while the starch is used in many non-food products including adhesives and plastics.