June 11, 2012 - Corn on the Cob Day

It's not quite summertime in the Northern Hemisphere, but here in Southern California, we're already enjoying fresh corn on the cob.

(I guess it's a sign of the times—in many places all over the world, we can and do expect to get yummy fruits and vegetables all year long. If they're not harvesting apples two towns away, the local grocery stores are still stocking apples brought in from Chile or Washington state. If it's too early for tomatoes in my garden, I can still get hothouse tomatoes at Trader Joe's.)

Last weekend I had some of the best corn on the cob of my whole life—rubbed with rosemary olive oil and grilled! In honor of the day, grill some corn, or of course you can also boil corn on the cob in a pot or “nuke” it in the microwave. 

Here are some yummy recipes for corn on the cob. (Recipes are divided into categories: delicious, spicy, cheesy, and sweeeeet.) 

A brief history of corn

This important grain didn't look anything like the corn we enjoy today, back when Native Americans living in Southern Mexico first discovered it around 7,000 years ago. It looked like (and was!) a sort of wild grass. The Indians called it teosinte, and they cultivated it carefully, “crossing” plants that had the largest seeds or kernels with each other, until they finally developed a plant resembling a small version of modern corn.

The Mexican Indians called the new plant that they had created maize. It was a huge hit—people began to trade maize, and to carry the knowledge of how to grow maize as they migrated. Indians began to grow maize as far south as Peru, in South America, all the way up Mexico, into the North American southwest and even to the eastern woodlands of what is now New England. This grain became a staple of many native diets (that is, the main source of calories and nutrients).

When Columbus “discovered” America, he also discovered corn. People in Asia and Africa and Europe had never seen or heard of corn before Columbus!

Once the “New World” and “Old World” were in contact, there was a great exchange of foods, including plants and seeds to grow on farms and animals to raise for milk or eggs or meat. Part of the exchange was corn. Now not only is corn part of people's diets all over the world, corn is often used to feed farm animals. Fabrics are strenthened by cornstarch, glues and inks contain corn oil or other corn products, ethanol (made from corn) fuels some vehicles, and corn has found its way into medicines, shoe polish, and cosmetics.

Corn is a good food that can be part of a healthy diet, but somewhere along the way, people discovered that high fructose corn syrup, made from corn, is a cheap way of sweetening food, and now there is far too much corn in most Americans' diets. You should eat most of your corn as fresh, delicious corn—and skip the processed foods that have “high fructose corn syrup” high on their lists of ingredients.

For a longer history of corn, check out History Detective.

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