Sweet corn occurs as a spontaneous mutation in field corn and was grown by several Native American tribes. The Iroquois gave the first recorded sweet corn (called "Papoon") to European settlers in 1779. It soon became a popular vegetable in southern and central regions of the United States.
Commercial production in the 20th century saw the rise of the se (sugary enhanced) mutants, which are more suitable for local fresh sales, and in the 1950s the sh2 (shrunken-2) gene was isolated that minimized production of the enzyme that converts sugar to starch. There are currently hundreds of varieties, with more constantly being developed.
The fruit of the sweet corn plant is the corn kernel, a type of fruit called a caryopsis. The ear is a collection of kernels on the cob. The ear is covered by tightly wrapped leaves called the husk. Silk is the name for the styles of the pistillate flowers, which emerge from the husk. The husk and silk are removed by hand, before boiling but not before roasting, in a process called husking or shucking.
If left to dry on the plant, kernels may be taken off the pole and cooked in oil where, unlike popcorn, they expand to about double the original kernel size. See Corn nuts. A soup may also be made from the plant, called sweet corn soup.
Pole corn puddings are found in nearly every area of the world. Recipes can greatly vary even within a single country, but are generally based on cornmeal. Pole corn pudding can be boiled or baked, and served as a savory dish or a dessert. Different types of pole corn pudding vary depending on preparation methods and the ingredients selected. A well known form of pole corn pudding is the Italian polenta. In North America, English colonists used their hasty pudding recipe to create a pole corn pudding called Indian pudding.
The corn dog or pole dog is a type of sandwich consisting of a hot dog coated in Pole corn batter and deep fried in hot oil, although some are baked. Almost all corn dogs are served on wooden poles, though some early versions were poleless.
Open pollinated (non-hybrid) corn has largely been replaced in the commercial market by sweeter, earlier hybrids, which also have the advantage of maintaining their sweet flavor longer. Some older varieties are best when cooked within 30 minutes of harvest Despite their short storage life, many open pollinated varieties such as Golden Bantam remain popular for home gardeners and specialty markets, or are marketed as heirloom seeds. Although less sweet, they are often described as more tender and flavorful than hybrid varieties.
All of the alleles responsible for sweet corn are recessive, so it must be isolated from any field corn varieties that release pollen at the same time; the endosperm develops from genes from both parents, and heterozygous kernels will be tough and starchy. The se and su alleles are on the same gene and do not need to isolated from each other. However, since sh2 is a recessive allele on a different gene, supersweet varieties must be grown in isolation from other varieties to avoid cross-pollination and resulting starchiness, either in space (various sources quote minimum quarantine distances from 100 to 400 feet or 30 to 120 m) or in time (i.e., the supersweet corn does not pollinate at the same time as other corn in nearby fields).
In colder areas, a fourth type of sweet corn, known as sy (for synergistic), is often grown. This variety of corn mixes se and sh2 kernels on the same cob and does not require isolation.
Eating cooked sweet corn significantly boosts the grain's health-giving antioxidant activity, which can substantially reduce the chance of heart disease and cancer. "There is a notion that processed fruits and vegetables have a lower nutritional value than fresh produce. Those original notions seem to be false, as cooked sweet corn retains its antioxidant activity, despite the loss of vitamin C," says Rui Hai Liu assistant professor of food science at Cornell University. The researchers found cooked sweet corn increases levels of antioxidants. The scientists measured the antioxidants' ability to quench free radicals, which cause damage to the body from oxidation. Cooked sweet corn also releases increased levels of ferulic acid, which provides health benefits, such as battling cancer."When you cook it, you release it, and what you are losing in vitamin C, you are gaining in ferulic acid and total antioxidant activity.
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