The "Pyler says" series explores excerpts from Baking Science & Technology, a textbook that teaches readers a range of baking and equipment concepts.
Corn (Zea mays), also called maize or Indian corn, is the No.1 cereal crop grown in the United States. Historically, the word “corn” was applied to the local grain. Then the explorers came to the New World and called the grain they found there “Indian corn.” Nowadays, most people understand that “corn” refers to Z. mays, not to wheat, barley or other grain.
Corn is thought to have originated in Mexico. Over the years, most discussions about the two probable ancestors of corn have been focused on a wild progenitor Teosinte (Z. mexicana) and a wild pod corn, which is now extinct.
Corn is a warm-season plant. It requires sufficient sunlight, warm temperatures and sufficient moisture for high yields, but it is generally adaptable to the environment as are other crops (Benson and Pearce 1987).
The kernel (corn seeds) consists of an embryo, endosperm, aleurone and pericarp. Corn can be divided into white, yellow, red and blue varieties, according to the pericarp color. Based on the kernel characteristics, corn also can be classified as dent, flint, floury, sweet or pod.
Dent corn is distinguished from others by the “vitreous, horny endosperm at the sides and back of the kernel, while the central core extending to the crown of the kernels is soft and floury” (Zuber and Darrah 1987). It is the corn most commonly grown in the United States.
Flint kernels are smooth and rounded with no denting but have a “thick, hard, vitreous endosperm surrounding a small granular center” (Zuber and Darrah 1987). Flint corn is little grown in the United States, but it is popular in Latin America and Europe.
Floury corn is an ancient corn variety. The endosperm is soft and starchy in contrast to the hard and vitreous flint kernels. It is little grown in the United States but common in the Andean regions of South America. Sweet corn is a mutant variety, where not all of the glucose sugar is converted to starch, which causes its sweetness if it is picked and processed at the correct time.
Benson, G.O. and Pearce, R.B. 1987. Corn perspective and culture. Pages 1-29 in Corn: Chemistry and Technology. S.A. Watson and P.E. Ramstad, eds. American Association of Cereal Chemists: St. Paul, MN.
Zuber, M.S. and Darrah, L.L. 1987. Breeding, genetics and seed corn production. Pages 31-52 in Corn: Chemistry and Technology. S.A. Watson and P.E. Ramstad, eds. American Association of Cereal Chemists: St. Paul, MN.