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Sweetcorn

Zea mays


Description

Sweetcorn, a variety of maize, is a favourite of children and adults alike. Eaten straight off the cob, it’s a particularly tactile vegetable, and when it’s fresh and in season it’s sweet and juicy, and oh-so-much-fun.

In season, you’ll usually find sweetcorn with its leaves still attached. The golden husk is covered in several layers of soft, pale green leaves, beneath which are silken threads that cover the corn. It can come in a variety of colours – the most common being the yellow and white ‘Honey and Pearl’ variety – including white, red, purple, blue, and even black.

Sweetcorn is a good source of carbohydrates and fibre, as well as folate, vitamins A, B, and C, and essential minerals magnesium, phosphorus, and iron.

Choose corn that looks fresh and plump. The leaves shouldn’t feel too dry or show any signs of mould. Leave behind pre-peeled corn – it takes the fun out of stripping it yourself and it won’t store as well.

Sweetcorn is best eaten as close to purchase as you can, as if left the kernels will become dry and starchy, but if you have to store it do so in the fridge with its leaves still intact.

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History

Sweetcorn is native to the Americas, originating in either Mexico or Central America, but was a staple of tribes throughout the continent. It was so important to the ancient Aztecs that it was worshipped as a god. Ceremonies would be held to ensure that the gods were kept happy and that the following year’s supply of corn would be plentiful.

It was brought to Europe by Spanish and Portuguese explorers in the 15th century, and from there it spread across the globe.

Uses

Corn is excellent fresh, eaten straight off the cob. Strip the leaves and threads, and boil in unsalted water for three or four minutes. You can sprinkle it with salt and pepper, and add a knob of butter, if you like. If you grow it in the garden, conventional wisdom says not to pick the corn until the water starts to boil.

At the height of its season, sweetcorn is also a hit cooked on the barbecue. If you do this, take out the silk and fold the leaves back round the cob.

Taken off the cob, sweetcorn can be added to almost any dish you like, from pasta dishes to quiches.

Try adding corn kernels to a salsa, for an interesting and authentic Mexican side dish.

Facts

One corn husk can contain about 800 kernels.

Sweetcorn cobs used to be very small and not have a lot of flavour. It’s been bred over the centuries to have the size and sweetness we know today.



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