From sweetcorn to popcorn, there are many different types of corn plants grown throughout the world. In the United States alone, corn is the most widely produced crop.
Just head to the Midwestern United States and you will find the Corn Belt where corn production has been at its most dominant.
Corn is the common reference to “maize” in the U.S. and, although most of the U.S. corn is harvested in the fields of the Midwest, nothing is stopping you from trying to grow different types in your backyard.
Farmers have been developing different varieties of corn for many years. This means we are now spoiled for choice on types of corn.
Overall, there are at least six classifications and varieties of corn. Some even fall under another classification so it can be a little confusing trying to tell one type of corn apart from another.
We are here to help you distinguish one corn variety from another. In today’s blog, we will be guiding you through the 6 main types of corn so you can gain an understanding and start growing it in your backyard.
Different Varieties Of Corn
There are essentially six types of corn. These are:
- Field/dent corn
- Sweet corn
- Flint corn
- Pod corn
- Flour corn
Each of these corn types is defined by the shape of its kernels. The kernels are the fruits of the corn and are often the pesky parts of popcorn that get stuck in your teeth.
You can also distinguish some of these types of corn by how hard or soft the starch content is in each kernel.
Although there are six main types of corn, over 95% of corn harvested in the United States each year is dent corn.
This is typically used for feeding livestock, the production of ethanol, and processed foods such as high fructose corn syrup.
Let’s take a look at each type of corn to see if any would be able to grow in your yard.
Field corn, commonly known as dent corn, has a tough starch on the kernel’s exterior but a softer starch on its inside. When the kernel begins to dry out, the soft starch inside the kernels begins to shrink.
This creates a dent in the top of the kernel, therefore giving this corn the “dent” name.
If you examine each individual kernel, you will notice an indentation on top of each one. This corn is mass-produced but mostly used for animal feed and ethanol production.
However, only the starch of corn is used for ethanol production. The remains of the corn that are rich in protein are then sold as livestock feed.
Field corn is also used for human food production, in particular, cornflour to make tortilla and tortilla chips. High fructose corn syrup is also made from field/dent corn.
This is a sweetener that is commonly used in a wide range of processed foods and is sometimes used in the production of various plastics.
This is a type of corn that is probably the best known aside from popcorn. Sweet Corn is what we stick on a cob and sometimes add butter or salt to for extra flavor.
Sweet corn is the result of a recessive gene in corn. This gene slows down the conversion of sugar into starch. And, unlike other types of corn, such as field corn, sweet corn is harvested when it is still in its immature stage.
This is known as the “milk stage.” If you have ever wondered where that delicious creaminess comes from in creamed corn, it’s from this milk stage.
Unlike some other varieties of corn, you can not store sweet corn for very long.
That is why it must be kept in a can, frozen, or eaten fresh. If you wait a day or so, the kernels start to mature and the sugar within the sweet corn will transform into scratch resulting in chewy kernels and less sweetness.
So, if you have some sweet corn lying about, eat it quickly or store it in your freezer before it goes off.
Also known as Indian corn, flint corn is the same species as common corn and there is evidence that it was being cultivated by the Native Americans. In fact.
Archeologists have found evidence that this kind of corn cultivation was taking place in the region as far back as 1,000 BC.
The name “flint” comes from the extremely hard outer shells of its kernels. These are so tough, they resemble the hardness of flint.
As for its appearance, the cobs of flint corn come in many colors and each kernel boasts a unique pigmentation. The richness in these colors is one of the reasons why this corn is commonly used for decorations during fall.
Grown mainly in Central and Southern America, flint corn is put to the same uses as dent corn and popcorn (which we will discuss further down).
However, unlike dent corn, there is no indentation with flint corn. This is because of its thicker and hard starch layer. The structure of flint corn’s kernels means it pops like popcorn when it is heated.
And, best of all, it stores very well and can even be ground into coarse cornmeal if required.
The one you have been waiting for! Popcorn is the one type of corn many of us are most familiar with. The kernel of popcorn sports a hard starch along its edge. This creates a seal of moisture that encompasses the core at the center of the corn starch.
When you heat popcorn, the moisture inside the kernels turns to steam. This creates an increase in pressure until the kernel pops.
And, whether the popcorn is yellow, white, purple, red, or blue when it pops, the kernel’s interior color will always be white or yellow due to the color of the starch.
Try and guess how long popcorn has been around. If you think it’s a relatively new type of corn, then you’re in for a surprise.
Evidence shows that popcorn was being made in Mexico as far back as 3,600 BC. Of course, it didn’t become commercially popular for thousands of years.
In 1890, a candy store owner in Chicago actually created the very first hot air popper just for popcorn.
He also made popcorn carts so he could sell his popcorn throughout the city. Popcorn vendors carry on this tradition to this very day but it wasn’t until the Great Depression of the 1930s that we saw a rise in popcorn’s popularity.
This was mainly due to its cheapness and availability at such a difficult time.
Unlike sweet corn or field corn, pod corn is not grown for commercial purposes. This type of corn is a mutated kind of corn and is a wild ancestor of corn but it remains an existing mutation of some existing corn varieties.
Pod corn contains cobs that sport kernels enclosed inside small leaves. These small leaves, also known as glumes, are a result of their genetic mutation. Because of these glumes, pod corn is hard to process and prepare for certain corn applications.
As we mentioned, farmers do not grow pod corn commercially but in some cases, preservations are made from it. In most cases, pod corn grows in numerous colors and is frequently used in decorations.
Furthermore, experts are unsure if pod corn has been around since ancient times if it is simply a genetic mutation of corn that has appeared in recent times.
Typically composed of soft starch, flour corn tends to have different colors on its outsides but with white starch. Therefore, when flour corn is ground to make cornmeal, it typically transforms into a white or gray color.
Flour corn is known for its soft-shell structure and starchy kernels. Unsurprisingly, this makes it the best type of corn for making corn flour.
As you delve into each kernel, you will find that they are filled with soft starches meaning this corn is wonderfully easy to grind.
From white to blue, flour starch comes in a variety of colors making it great for different recipes where a bit of color may be needed to spruce the appearance of a dish up.
How Many Varieties Of Corn Are There?
Although we have outlined the six main types of corn above, it is estimated that there maybe 3,000 to 5,000 types of corn in the world right now.
However, if you look at the varieties we have access to, the number is a lot smaller. In this case, we probably have access to around 300 varieties of corn.
It is believed that all corn varieties stem from an ancient tall grass plant that grew in Mexico known as “teosinte.” This plant featured around 20 kernels with no husk to protect the kernels from animals.
Experts believe that teosinte plants were first domesticated around 10,000 years ago and have gradually become the corn that we know and love today.
With thousands of corn varieties in the world today, we tend to use only a fraction of what is grown. Of these 3,000 to 5,000 estimated corn types, only around 300 may be available to us for commercial and personal use.
That being said, the six main types of corn (field/dent corn, sweet corn, flint corn, popcorn, pod corn, and flour corn) are the most widely used throughout the world and each has its own unique purposes for us to take advantage of.