Types of Corn
There are 4 commonly grown types of corn. The differences between each type dictate how they're best used and other varying cultural requirements. Maize belongs to the highly diverse genus Zea, which includes many annual and perennial grains and grasses native to Mexico and Central America. These commonly grown corns are all types of Zea mays, which were first domesticated by Mesoamericans about 10,000 years ago, and they eventually reached the indigenous peoples of the American Southwest. Since then, eons of natural selection and modern crossbreeding have combined to create one of the most important, widely used, and recognized agricultural crops in the world.
Sweet Corn - (Zea mays)
Modern sweet corn is prized for summer eating with a sweet, creamy, and crunchy texture. Sweet corns are the result of naturally occurring recessive genes that are responsible for the conversion of sugars into starch within each kernel. The speed of this conversion is dictated by the genetic type of the sweet corn, either su, se, se+, sh2, Synergistics (se/sh2), or Quad Sweets. Sweet corn is harvested in the early stage of development referred to as the milk stage. Sweet corn is harvested and eaten or processed quickly compared to the field or popcorn types.
Dent Corn - (Zea mays v. indentata)
Dent corn, a.k.a Field corns contain both hard and soft starch within each kernel. When fully mature the kernels will have a pronounced depression or dent at the crown or top of the kernels, hence the name. Many varieties are harvested for whole plant silage, while others are better suited to harvest the dried ears which can then be used for grinding. Dent corn is used for livestock feed, ethanol, and ground for processing into cornmeal used for many food products. These are typically yellow but can be white or blue corn types.
Flint Corn - (Zea mays v. everta)
Popcorn is all types of flint corn. Flint corns are characterized as having a soft, starchy center encapsulated within a hard, small shiny kernel. When these kernels are heated, a tiny bit of moisture inside the kernel turns to steam which quickly cooks and then bursts the kernel exposing the fluffy starch that we recognize as popcorn. The tricky part of getting good popcorn is the drying process. Getting the moisture content low enough to prevent mold during storage, but still retains enough moisture to pop. If popcorn has a chewy texture after popping, it is too wet, allowing the kernels to dry more. If little to no popping occurs, the kernels have dried too much. If this happens you can try rehydrating the kernels by adding 1 tbsp. of water to a 1 qt. Jar of popcorn kernels, stirring them well at least twice per day for 2-3 days, then try popping another sample. Continue this process until the desired popping is achieved.
Ornamental, or Calico Corn - (Zea mays v. indurata)
Ornamental corn can be either a dent or flint type, but they typically have larger kernels that contain more starch, which makes most of them more like dent corn than popcorn. Their kernels can be multi-colored or solid with shades of yellow, orange, pink, red, or blue to nearly black. They are most commonly used now for fall decorations in the U.S., but cultures have been grinding them into flour for foodstuffs for centuries.