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21 Cool Facts about Corn (That Sweetens the Deal!)

facts about corn

From popcorn to sweetcorn, tortillas to polenta, corn has been a familiar staple in our diets for millennia. Those shiny, sturdy yellow cobs shrouded in silky green leaves towering high above the ground are an unmistakable yet unremarkable sight throughout agricultural regions the world over. But within those green leaves lie a complex and fascinating organism with scores of surprising uses, from manufacturing to medicine. Here are 21 marvellous maize facts that might just change the way you think about the humble cob of corn!

21 Amazing Corn Facts

corn fact
  1. Zea Mays is a flowering cereal grain plant, better known as Corn, or Maize, which belongs to the grass family Poaceae. It originated in the Americas around 10,000 years ago and is now a ubiquitous crop the world over, with around 50 accepted varieties. 
  2. Corn cannot grow without human intervention. It is a completely man-made plant that is reliant on humans for its survival. The corn plant as we know it today would not exist were it not for ancient Meso-American peoples who domesticated the ‘teosinte’ grass over many years, developing the crop through selective breeding from tiny single-eared plants which reached barely more than an inch in size, into the large multi-ear producing plants we recognise today.   
  3. Modern maize plants can reach up to ten feet in height. The tallest maize plant ever recorded was an astronomical 45 feet tall! That’s as tall as letters of the Hollywood sign! The world’s longest ever corn cob measured 92cm! amazing corn fact
  4. One reason for the worldwide success of the corn plant is its ability to grow in a vast array of climates, conditions, humidity levels, and altitudes. In fact, corn is grown on every continent except Antarctica. 
  5. Every cob of corn has an even number of rows of kernels! The average number of kernels on a cob is 800. 
  6. Maize is the most widely cultivated grain crop in the world and surpasses both wheat and barley in terms of yield and productivity per square meter. It is the third most important plant-based food source in the world for humans and is also one of the main components of livestock feed. In 2020, the global maize market was estimated to be worth around 36.4 billion dollars, with around 169 million tonnes of corn being produced and exported worldwide.  
  7. Maize makes up one-third of the traditional ‘Three Sisters’ crops, along with beans and squash. Developed by ancient communities in the Americas, the Three Sisters agricultural system grouped this specific combination of crops together so that they could grow symbiotically, increasing productivity and efficiency. Sister Bean supplied the crops with nitrogen, Sister Corn supported the trailing vines of the bean plants, and Sister Squash covered the ground, maintaining fertile soil conditions and protecting the crops from predators with her spiky stems. The close reciprocal relationships of the three crops led to the name ‘Three Sisters’. 
  8. Technically, corn can be classed as a fruit, a grain, and a vegetable! The cob of corn is a vegetable, the individual corn kernels are grains, and grains are considered to be fruits because they emerge from the seed or flower of a plant.
  9. The shiny, thread-like fibres which grow from the tops of corn ears are called corn silk and they have many uses in traditional Chinese and Native American herbal medicine. They are used to remedy water infections, kidney stones, high blood pressure, malaria, and angina, amongst other conditions. Corn silk remedies are still widely used today, although there has been little scientific research into their efficiency in medical practice. fact about corn
  10. Most of us are familiar with the sight of vivid yellow corn cobs enveloped in silky green leaves, yet different corn varieties can display a vivid spectrum of colours, from white to blue to red to purple and even jet-black. Some varieties are speckled with a mix of different coloured kernels, and others have pink, white, red, or even variegated leaves, making corn one of the most decorative food crops. 
  11. Corn can be used as a replacement for coffee. In the Philippines, burnt cornflour (sinunog bugas mais) is a popular coffee-flavoured drink that has been enjoyed by locals for many years. Corn coffee is healthier than conventional coffee, as it doesn’t contain caffeine. In the 1800s in America, coffee was incredibly expensive to purchase, so people used roasted corn drinks as an alternative. 
  12. Fermented corn is used to make a variety of alcoholic spirits such as corn whiskey in the USA. In South America, Chicha, or ‘corn beer’ has been made from fermented corn for hundreds of years. It was brewed and enjoyed by locals long before the Spanish conquistadors arrived and it is still enjoyed today. 
  13. Corn is a healthy food in and of itself, providing a good source of vitamins A, B, and E, carbohydrates, protein, and fibre. But corn also provides a valuable and versatile byproduct, called cornflour (or cornstarch), which can be used to make anything from chewing gum to ice cream because it is an excellent thickening and texturising agent. It is estimated that perhaps as many as 75% of grocery items contain either corn or a corn byproduct. 
  14. Aside from food, cornflour is used in a dizzying array of other products that you may not necessarily associate with corn. It is used to make surgical dressings, fireworks and dynamite, drywall plaster, cosmetic products, latex, crayons, 3D printing ink, and even gasoline to name a few. So omnipresent and valuable is corn to so many products and industries that it is sometimes called ‘yellow gold’. corn facts
  15. In the US Capitol Building, some of the supporting columns dating back to the early 1800s have ears of corn intricately carved into the tops of them, in a nod to the thriving American corn agriculture industry of the period. The USA is still the world’s largest corn producer and exporter. Olivia, Minnesota, is the self-proclaimed ‘corn capital of the world’, owing to its high corn production, and has erected a 50-foot tall roadside corn ear monument in recognition of its title. This corn monument is the largest ear of corn in the world! 
  16. For the Aztecs, so revered and scared was corn that they had a dedicated maize deity. Maize formed the basis of their diets, farming techniques, and daily life. Every part of the corn plant was utilised, the husks were braided to make rope, the dried cobs were used for cleaning or fuel for fires. Centeōtl, the Corn God, had both masculine and feminine qualities, and a whole month of the Aztec calendar was dedicated to them, when corn was featured in elaborate sacrificial ceremonies. People would carry out blood-letting rituals to honour Centeōtl and assure a plentiful harvest for the coming year. When corn seeds were planted each year, communities would perform a special dance to thank both Mother Earth Coatlicue and Centeōtl for the corn and the health and prosperity it signified. 
  17. In Mayan civilisation, maize was equally revered as it was crucial to the creation story. The Mayans believed that the Gods mixed their own blood with maize to create the first humans. Eating maize was seen as incredibly sacred, as it symbolised the flesh of the Gods.  
  18. In Inca societies too, maize was a deeply important and precious commodity. Small statues of corn ears made from gold and silver alloy were placed in Inca temples and sacred gardens. Maize was seen as a valuable offering for official and spiritual community leaders. 
  19. Tobacco pipes have been fashioned from hollowed-out corn cobs for around 150 years, and are still made and used today. amazing corn facts
  20. In Mitchell, South Dakota, there is what’s thought to be the worlds only remaining ‘Corn Palace’. Originally built in 1892 as a place to celebrate the state’s plentiful corn-harvest season, it now functions as a theatre and gallery with some 500,000 tourists visiting each year. The exterior of the palace is adorned with murals entirely made up of intricately decorated and brightly coloured corncobs. Each year the display is completely reimagined and replaced, requiring about 325,000 ears of corn at the cost of around $175,000! 
  21. Dolls fashioned from corn husks were once a popular toy for Native American children, a tradition probably dating back thousands of years. The dried cornhusks were soaked in water to soften them, before being ornately decorated with horsehair, flowers, and beads, yet they were never given faces. It is thought that the Corn Spirit once created a corn doll so beautiful that it became consumed by its own vanity, so its face had to be removed, and thus, corn dolls remained forever faceless. Corn dolls have also been used as charms in spiritual rituals, thought to ward off evil spirits from homes, farms, and livestock, as well as offering protection from nightmares or bad dreams. 
From flesh of the Gods to food of the peasants, children’s toys to tobacco pipes, the corn plant has proven indispensable to humans since its initial development over 10,000 years ago. It would be difficult to find another plant that is so deeply important to society, agriculture, and industry. This imposing, man-made giant of the grass kingdom is a truly a-maize-ing plant!    Sources
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Emily Grice

Emily Grice

Em Grice is a content writer specialising in horticulture and botany who combines her respect for the natural world with her love for the written word. A regular contributor to a range of international publications and organisations, she is most at peace when pottering in her own little garden in the north of England

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