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Colorful corn nutrition

 
pollinator
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I've read a bit here and there about multi-colored corn, and it seems the consensus is that corn with many colors must be more nutritious than traditional yellow or white corn.  While I agree with this logical conclusion, it makes me wonder why it isn't used more in food production for both humans and livestock.  My theory is, on the commercial scale, the amount of beneficial nutrients can't really be predictably quantified in livestock feed nutrition calculations as compared to a standard predictable yellow or white corn.  While this may possibly be true of commercialized human foods that require a "Nutrition Facts" label on products, I think it may have something to do with appearance and marketability too.  

For example, the way flour is bleached to give a clean end product appearance when compared to the same product made with a whole grain flour.

Do any of you have photos of multi-colored cornmeal, grits, corn bread, corn muffins, corn dogs, corn chips, etc?  I'm just curious what the finished product looks like.  
 
pollinator
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From what I understand the yellow and white is probably sweeter. There is the "glass gem" variety of popcorn. I have not gotten a chance to grow it to maturity yet, but I found a picture online of what it looks like popped. Kind of cool. Here is the link where i found it. https://dengarden.com/gardening/beautiful-glass-gem-corn
beautiful-glass-gem-corn.jpg
[Thumbnail for beautiful-glass-gem-corn.jpg]
 
pollinator
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Blue corn masa or chips are pretty common in grocery stores here, though I do not have any on hand now. When I have bought blue corn masa, I was very pleased with it. It’s soft and not as gritty as white or yellow, and sticks together perfectly for easy tortilla making.

I’ve seen the folks from Great Lakes Staple Seeds grind red flint corn for polenta, but haven’t tried it myself.
 
pollinator
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Just to get the terminology straight, flint corn has hard, glassy, high-protein kernels that are best for polenta, cornmeal, and wet-batter cornbread. Popcorn is a specialized type of flint corn and makes great cornmeal as well. Flint corn is the traditional corn of the north, and was grown in New England by First Nations peoples long before European settlement. Flour corn has kernels that are mostly soft, crumbly starch. This crushes to a fine powder that can be used in biscuits, breads, cake, and cookies as well as cornbread. It grows primarily in the southern tier of the country, and was perfected by the Pueblo peoples in the Southwest. Dent corn has a hard flinty outer shell and and soft floury interior--when it dries, the floury part shrinks, making a dent in the top of the kernel. Traditional dent corns were widespread over the south and Midwest. Modern commodity corns are primarily dent types, but some old heritage varieties survive, and should be cherished. Southern Exposure Seed Exchange stewards several of them. Sweet corn is an oddity--a grain that is eaten when at the unripe green stage as a vegetable. Ancient Native American breeders discovered and selected for the genes that make corn sweet instead of starchy. Modern breeding and hybridization has produced supermarket varieties that are for me, almost too sweet to eat. But heritage sweet corns are still available, and a few public-spirited modern breeders have continued to produce and improve open=pollinated (non-hybrid) sweet corns. "Glass Gem" is a multi-colored flint corn.

As with potatoes, each color has a slightly different flavor, and they are better for different purposes. And yes, the white is mildest. Yellow corn was not traditionally popular in the South for cornbread and fritters, especially on the coast, because the flavor of yellow corn conflicts with the flavor of fish. Thus the traditional white corns, for cornbread, all the way up into New England with Narragansett White.

Carol Deppe has done a lot of work with this. See her book The Resilient Gardener. She took landrace multi-color corns, which she considered to have a muddy flavor from the conflicting colors, and separated them out into one-or-two-color lines for specific flavors. Thus the white and cream lines are for pancakes, cookies, biscuits, and cakes. The yellow and gold for cornbread. The red for parching, gravy, polenta, and flavorful cornbread. The brown and maroon for gravy. And so on. Even though a variety like Magic Manna or Cascade Ruby-Gold has more than one color, each ear is all one color. So from one planting of Magic Manna you can get entire ears in each color, ready to use for separate purposes. https://www.quailseeds.com/store/p397/Magic_Manna_Flour_Corn.html

Other high-nutrient corns like Floriani, Abenaki, and Wapsie Valley are a mix of just the yellow and red colors, which makes a very buttery, warm-flavored cornbread or polenta, without the admixture or blue, green, white, and brown kernels that muddy the flavor, but with the red and yellow pigments that add nutrients like carotene etc. These tend to be the cornmeals and polentas that win taste tests. They are not so bland as the white corns, (which shine in recipes where the flour is not supposed to add a separate flavor.) They are also not so tannic and strong-flavored as the darker corns, which are best suited to recipes that feature them, like blue cornmeal, posole,, parched corn, etc.

The highest-yielding and most versatile of these that I know of is Wapsie Valley Dent, which was bred by a farmer in the 1970's by combining many open-pollinated and Native American corns which were already becoming hard to get and disappearing. It is a large, easy-to-grow corn with outstanding flavor and high yields--combining the best traits of many traditional ancestors.https://www.quailseeds.com/store/p396/Wapsie_Valley_Dent_Corn.html It can be used for both flour and polenta. Bloody Butcher is a red corn, similar but less adaptable to areas outside the South. Floriani is a polenta corn all red, no yellow, and no flour, just polenta. https://www.southernexposure.com/products/floriani-red-flint-flint-corn/

Dave Christensen bred the ground-breaking Painted Mountain flour corn in Northern Montana to be the most hardy and short-season-adapted flour corn available. (It is multi-colored, and Carol Deppe's Magic Manna is a descendant with single-color ears.) He now has a corn that is dark red, to have the highest nutrition as well as all the hardiness and low-input adaptability. I believe that he crossed in some Mexican morado corns for high nutrient values.

Alan Kapular did the same sort of thing with his sweet corn variety, Double Red.  The late Jonathan Spero crossed modern sweet corns with ancient Anasazi corn to produce a sweet corn with multicolored ears called Festivity. If you are interested in nutrition, in modern landrace plants, or in non-hybrid corns, it is well worth growing. https://www.quailseeds.com/store/p485/Festivity_Sweet_Corn.html

If you are interested in corn history, genetics, cookery, and agriculture, you might request the book Beautiful Corn from your library. It is written by a farmer in the PNW and I believe it started as a newsletter to his CSA families but turned into a book all about corn.  Both his book and Carol Deppe's are great introductions to the complex and unique world of corn and corn genetics. Corn as we know it is almost entirely the creation of ancient Native American farmers, and is arguably the greatest achievement in plant breeding ever.
 
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Jamie, your insights have me wanting to try again at growing corn.   I love how you give detailed information about regions, uses, and nutrition.   I'll check out the books you recommended.

Our first attempt at growing corn ended in a squirrel fest.   All of our carefully planted kernels were dug up and either eaten or replanted--scattered throughout the area.   None of the vagrant sprouts made it past the sprouting stage, so something must have found them to be delicious.

Does anyone have a strategy to keep corn in the ground long enough to grow when squirrels are in the vicinity?
 
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I do not have any photos but I do know of several varieties of corn that are supposed to be healthier than others due to their high antioxidant content. Here are the ones that come to mind first:

Double Red sweet corn (developed by Dr. Alan Kapuler)

High Carotene sweet corn (developed by Joseph Lofthouse)

High Carotene flint corn (developed by Joseph Lofthouse)

Blue Mountain flint corn (from Fedco seeds)

Montana Morado flour corn (developed by Dave Christensen)

I’d be interested in learning of any other varieties purported to be healthier than others. I’ve wondered if the beautiful japonica corn would qualify. I’ve never grown it, but it appears to be deeply pigmented. Like the OP, I’m also interested in any photos of the finished products
 
Cy Cobb
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Thank you Jonathan for your superb explanation & links.  I hope we will get more photos as folks grind their multi-colored corn into meal or flour later this year.  I hope to incorporate some of those listed varieties into my sweet corn mix in the coming years, but alas it seems most are sold out (hopefully just for this season).  

The High Carotene Sweet Corn, Double Red Sweet Corn, & other Multi-colored sweet corns currently have my attention.  I just have to wait until next years' seed catalogs come out to see what's available.

For the time being, I'm focused on Sweet Corn & Melons.  Eating and growing sweet corn is a passion of mine.  I'm sure I'll eventually drift into other types, but for now I'm having fun chasing my version of perfection.

-Side Question:  Do you know if dried sweet corn ground into meal adds any perceptible sweetness when added into regular yellow corn meal?  I would think not, due to the sugars that were in the seed during the milk stage being converted to starches as it dries, producing food for the seed to stay viable until germination.  However, I don't have a mill to test it, but I do have a surplus of seed, so I was curious.
 
Jamie Chevalier
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Yes, there are more sugars in dried sweet corn. Just as with peas, the dry seeds of sweet types are wrinkled because the sugars shrink more with drying than starch does.
Sweet corns exist in Mexico and through Central and South America, but in most of those places, the sweetcorn varieties were not used as a vegetable, as we use it. Instead, they were dried and used as a source of sugars for fermentation. There is a great chapter on this in Edgar Anderson's wonderful book from 1952, Plants, Man, and Life.
 
Cy Cobb
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Thanks Jamie!  Kind of makes you wonder why sweet corn isn't grown more for distilling with it's higher sugar content.  Maybe it's just cheaper to use field corn on a larger scale since once the sugar converts to alcohol, it gets distilled anyway.  I would think it would take less sweet corn to create the same amount of alcohol when compared to field corn.  I'll have to look for that book, thanks!
 
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We grow a red and white mixed corn, it just makes the tortillas look a bit browner than white corn tortillas. Corn that is pure red does come out pinkish,  You can see some photos here Tortillas from colored corn These pictures were taken by my friend Ing. Enrique Montes of Proyecto Mixteco
 
Melissa Ferrin
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Cy Cobb wrote:
-Side Question:  Do you know if dried sweet corn ground into meal adds any perceptible sweetness when added into regular yellow corn meal?  I would think not, due to the sugars that were in the seed during the milk stage being converted to starches as it dries, producing food for the seed to stay viable until germination.  However, I don't have a mill to test it, but I do have a surplus of seed, so I was curious.



You missed the line in Jamie Chevalier excellent information. "Sweet corn is an oddity--a grain that is eaten when at the unripe green stage as a vegetable."

Sweet corn is corn that is picked when it's still green. As it matures the sugars change into starches. If you want to grind a variety you planted for sweet corn, you can't pick it when it's "sweet" or green, that will just shrivel up and there won't be any good way to separate it from the cob as it's still quite adhered to the cob--why frozen or canned corn is cut flat at the bottom the full grain as not developed.

In Mexico, we eat field corn sweet, being an Iowa girl with a sweet tooth, at first I didn't like it. To the point of being surprised anyone did. But now I think it's delicious. It has a much richer fuller flavor and is much more like a vegetable than US sweet corn, which borders on dessert. (I do love dessert, so if I'm ever in Iowa in the summer I do still gobble up many ears!)

Interesting side note: our heirloom corn is red and white, kind of swirled, even the leaves of the plant have a red stripe down the outside, if we pick it green it's only white. The red appears as the sugars turn to starches.

We plant in July, here's a photo from this past weekend. And a photo of some of last year's harvest.
IMG_20220731_111556395_HDR.jpg
Young corn plant
Young corn plant
IMG_20220102_171540634.jpg
Last year's harvest. The all red one is a rarity. We get 70% mixed, 29% all white, and 1% all red.
Last year's harvest. The all red one is a rarity. We get 70% mixed, 29% all white, and 1% all red.
 
Cy Cobb
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Melissa,

I think there may be some confusion.  I'm not talking about using fresh picked flour corn at the sweet or milk stage for grinding; that's why I am growing "Sweet" Corn varieties to eat fresh as a vegetable.  I save some seed from my "Sweet" corn varieties for planting the next crop.  With this process comes more seed than I could ever plant before it gets old and stops germinating.  So, I was talking about using my excess dried "Sweet" corn variety seed ground into meal as another use for the large amount of dried kernels I have left over that won't be used for seed, even though it isn't specifically grown as a grinding corn.  

You have some beautiful corn there, & thank you for the link to the tortillas!
 
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Charlie Tioli wrote: Jamie, your insights have me wanting to try again at growing corn.
Our first attempt at growing corn ended in a squirrel fest.   All of our carefully planted kernels were dug up and either eaten or replanted--scattered throughout the area.   None of the vagrant sprouts made it past the sprouting stage, so something must have found them to be delicious.

Does anyone have a strategy to keep corn in the ground long enough to grow when squirrels are in the vicinity?


The system in my family was to soak the seed until it was starting to sprout the coat it with used motor oil just before putting it in th ground.  The smell and bitterness of the oil discouraged the predictors.  Otherwise the crows would walk down the row as soon as the sprouts came up and eat each one.
 
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Pancakes from purple (cherry flavored) corn.
cherry-flavored-pancakes.jpg
purple corn pancakes
purple corn pancakes
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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High carotene sweet corn (on the bottom)
high-carotene-sweet-corn-mmm-mmm-mmm.jpg
yummy carotenes.
yummy carotenes.
 
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For extra sweet corn seeds… My grandma would toss in a handful when making popcorn. They swell and crisp rather than pop. It was my favorite part of the popcorn.
 
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