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Corn ? Gift of the Gods


By Erik on Jun 25, 2010 10:00 AM in Healthy Eating

Traveling through Central America, it’s obvious what an important part corn has played in the diet here, both in the past and present.  From the ever-present handmade tortillas to the delicious sweet or savory tamales, corn plays a part in nearly every meal.  This staple food, grown and worshiped for at least a thousand years was completely unique to the Americas and now represents one of the most important crops worldwide.

Children of the Corn

Many ancient civilizations, including the Mayans and Aztecs, depended upon corn as their primary source of nutrition.  Their ability to expertly cultivate the crop allowed these early people to flourish, building large empires by trading excess inventory.  As legend tells, Mayans considered themselves “children of the corn”, created by the blood of gods mixed with corn flour.  Each kernel was considered sacred, representing the full circle of life, and corn played an important part in offerings and other religious ceremonies.

Columbus and the New World’s Food

In addition to accidentally discovering the New World, Christopher Columbus also introduced the rest of the world to corn.  Maiz, the same word used by the native Tainos Columbus first met, was brought back to Europe by him and other early explorers.  Later, sailors carried corn on expeditions to other parts of the world, where it was quickly adopted and cultivated locally.  It is now found almost everywhere in the world, and is an important part of many cuisines.

Corn in Latin America

During my first two months traveling in Mexico and Guatemala, I’ve been very lucky to try a number of common and not-so-common corn dishes.  From sweet corn ice cream in the Yucatan, to an interesting corn fungus in Central Mexico, to fresh corn on the cob available on almost every street corner, I’ve seen (and tasted) some of the many delicious ways corn is used in Latin American cooking.

One of my favorites is a sweet, soupy warm beverage called atole, made from corn hominy flour, unrefined sugar, and various spices.  It is a wonderful and comforting way to start the day or ease an upset stomach.  In Guatemala, I was told it’s a common food fed to children to keep them growing and healthy.

Corn in the Future

While corn is still a staple food in Latin America, worldwide it is now also overwhelmingly used for livestock, poultry, and fish feed. In addition, corn is increasingly being used to create ethanol which is added to petroleum as a biofuel.  In the US, corn grown to produce starches used for corn syrup sweeteners now accounts for roughly three times that grown for other human consumption.


Your thoughts…

What’s your favorite corn dish?


Calorie Count co-founder Erik Fantasia and his girlfriend, Heather Curtis, are currently traveling through Central America as part of a trip around the world.  You can follow their adventures online at www.aroundthisworld.com



Comments


mmmmm...Corn!

I serve corn with any mexican or italian dish I serve, nothing compliments in better.

My mother used to make this corn casserole using cream corn, butter, oysters and crackers! That is my favorite corn dish!!



I love grilled corn on the cob and I love adding it to salads and mixing it in with other vegetables with rice. 



Sweet corn ice cream is the best! I'm getting ready to make another big batch of this: http://saltycod.blogspot.com/2009/07/in-corn-castle.html



I've never tasted corn ice cream...I am going to try that!



Someone who had that ice cream I made said it sort of reminded them of creamed corn...but idk I've never had creamed corn. It was delicious!



yes, corn is awesome. If you were in mexico you had to try the pozole...mmm, i love pozole and atole.



How about pop-corn??!!! I love making it stove-top!



Try some raw sweet corn in your next salad. Using a knive scrape the kernels from the cob and toss it in. It adds a lovely crunch with a light sweet flavor!



I love corn on the cob, but corn has become a food I am afraid to eat.  It is now a GMO product.  Monsanto has forced farmers to have to buy new seed each year because it has been modified so that the farmers can no longer harvest corn for seed as it can no longer reproduce.  



I love grilled corn on the cob, husk and all, then just eating it while it is hot, cold, or in between!  Also a Chili Corn Chip Casserole that I make.  Although it is not an every week recipe.  It is more like a special occasion dish!



You can't beat corn on the cob, dipped in butter and sprinkled with salt! :) not the healthiest option but definately the best tasting!! Tongue out



Corn is a must in my "diet" being Celiac - love it, use it, will never go without it!  Favorite:  corn and black bean salad that I make - it is awesome!



Is it not concerning to anyone that there is so much corn in our diet?  If you go through your supermarket probably 80% of all boxed items have some variety of corn in it.  Whether it is corn syrup, corn meal or corn flour, or some scientifically modified bi-product of corn like high fructose corn syrup.  Corn is so cheap and easy to produce on such a large scale that they are now feeding it to livestock and fish.  When did cows and fish start eating corn?  Cows are suppose to eat grass.  Does anyone else see problems with this?  Just curious, Thanks!  This doesn't go without saying that I don't still love a good piece of grilled corn on the cob, even though I avoid it!



I like corn almost anyway except creamed. But my question is why does it seem like I can't digest corn. I can swallow a few kernels whole and sure enough they will come out looking exactly like they did going in.



susancece - if you buy organic corn, pesticides would not have been used, so the corn would not have been seeded with monsanto seeds. honestly, i think the fertilizers/pesticides used are a bigger concern than eating the monsanto gene. buy from your local farmer's market, they should be able to tell you what you are buying.

josephdcoleman - yep, corn is corrupt. but don't let it undermine the nutrutional value and deliciusness of corn as corn! if you buy fresh food and cook, then it won't be 80% corn. when you know what you are eating, there is nothing to be afraid of!



Actually, corn has not existed for thousands of years, but was developed within the past millenia, I believe sometime after the Little Ice Age.  It was probably the greatest technological achievement of ancient horticulture, to this day, no one understands how the developers went from the grass it came from to what they made of it.  It was developed in South America, by Indians, of course, I'm guessing about 500 years before Contact.  I know the largest Empire in the world around that time was in South America, so I would guess it was connected with that.  The cultivar quickly spread throughout the hemisphere.  To this day, it's the world's principal food crop.  There's more information about it at the end of the book, 1491, by Charles C Mann, which I highly recommend.  



Oh, also check out "Indian Givers" by Jack Weatherford, for more on this subject.



Original Post by: keress

Actually, corn has not existed for thousands of years, but was developed within the past millenia, I believe sometime after the Little Ice Age.  It was probably the greatest technological achievement of ancient horticulture, to this day, no one understands how the developers went from the grass it came from to what they made of it.  It was developed in South America, by Indians, of course, I'm guessing about 500 years before Contact.  I know the largest Empire in the world around that time was in South America, so I would guess it was connected with that.  The cultivar quickly spread throughout the hemisphere.  To this day, it's the world's principal food crop.  There's more information about it at the end of the book, 1491, by Charles C Mann, which I highly recommend.  


Thanks keress - this is very interesting!  I've updated the article to mention "at least a thousand years" instead of "thousands".



to josephdcoleman, ranchers have been feeding corn to their cattle for centuries, this is not a new occurance.  Corn is high in calories and nutrients that keep cattle at a good weight especially in the winter months when there is no grass.  Also the corn fed to livestock and the corn that humans eat is by far not the same variety.  If you were to taste corn fed to cattle, you would not like it.  It is not at all sweet, and is pretty tough.



ninav - Great thought!  I have some leftover cobs from a weekend BBQ.  Gonna go home a scrape them tonight.  Working on getting my brain and foods "out of the box" I've kept them in.



Original Post by: epiphany323

I like corn almost anyway except creamed. But my question is why does it seem like I can't digest corn. I can swallow a few kernels whole and sure enough they will come out looking exactly like they did going in.


I have the same problem with it as you. They give corn to our cows, pigs,chickens etc. to fatten them up. Then they add it to most of our food and then wonder why we, as humans are getting fat. Hello!

When I lived in Germany I asked my husband,"How come nobody eats corn over here?" "Corn?" He answered, "We only give that to the livestock, are you telling me that people in Canada actually eat that stuff?"



My parents were from Nicaragua and my joke is that the official cookbook of Nicaragua is "101 Ways to Cook Corn". The variety of foods made from corn is endless. A typical meal can be a nacatamale (which is made from corn) with tortillas and tiste (a cornmeal drink) consumed all at once. It's kind of funny to me.



Corn Bread Casserole

1 can corn drained, 1 can cream corn, 1 small container sour cream, 3-4 tbs sugar,3/4 C milk 1 box jiffy corn bread,1 stick butter. 

Mix first 6 ingrediants in a (approx 9x13) casserole dish. Sprinkle box of corn bread over the top, melt the stick of butter and drizzle over the cornbread mix. Bake at 425 for approx. 25 mins or until golden bubbly. SOOOOO SOOOO GOOOD!!!



Original Post by: candybarnes

Corn Bread Casserole

1 can corn drained, 1 can cream corn, 1 small container sour cream, 3-4 tbs sugar,3/4 C milk 1 box jiffy corn bread,1 stick butter. 

Mix first 6 ingrediants in a (approx 9x13) casserole dish. Sprinkle box of corn bread over the top, melt the stick of butter and drizzle over the cornbread mix. Bake at 425 for approx. 25 mins or until golden bubbly. SOOOOO SOOOO GOOOD!!!


We make this every Thanksgiving and call it "Indian Corn Pudding" - Delicious!



I love that name better than corn bread casserole. Thanksgiving and Christmas are the only times we really make it to. Don't know why when we all love it so much.!!



I once made a corn souffle and it was light, puffy and delicious.  I think I'll make it again!!  YUM!  It was a big hit for everyone.



I'm very careful with corn because it turns to sugar very quickly.  But.....I LOVE cornbread!!!!!!!



You eat a lot more corn than you think you do.  It's in everything.  Just say no to corn subsidies.

From the author of The Omnivore's Dilemma

When a Crop Becomes King



Original Post by: sharron1956

Original Post by: epiphany323

I like corn almost anyway except creamed. But my question is why does it seem like I can't digest corn. I can swallow a few kernels whole and sure enough they will come out looking exactly like they did going in.


I have the same problem with it as you. They give corn to our cows, pigs,chickens etc. to fatten them up. Then they add it to most of our food and then wonder why we, as humans are getting fat. Hello!

When I lived in Germany I asked my husband,"How come nobody eats corn over here?" "Corn?" He answered, "We only give that to the livestock, are you telling me that people in Canada actually eat that stuff?"


That's because you don't actually digest it! You're body doesn't break down corn. Also, it's a starch not a vegetable like it used to be. The mention of GMO is correct in that corn we eat today is not the corn of South America's ancestors and does not hold much nutritional value. If you really only ever eat fresh foods than yes corn is ok but most of America doesn't and therefore ingests way too much corn (and soy but that's for another day). And buying it organic doesn't do much because most corn has changed over the decades to be nutritional depleted.



Hmmmmmmmmmmm...

Corn..one of my favourite food..

 

 



Great link ds1973. It's so sad that the government pushes this so much :(



The outer shell of a kernal of corn is composed of cellulose which is indigestable. The only part of the kernal that is able to be digested is the center. The shell is a source of fiber that helps push things along :)



Comment Removed

I just say no thank you to corn for the following reasons.  1: it has very little nutritional value, 2: GMO products were not studied and are now showing to cause liver and other organ damage in lab studies, 3:  GMO corn crops are tainting non-GMO corn crops and 4:  HORRIBLE FOR THE ENVIRONMENT, if you count the amount of fossil fuels to create the fertilizer, apply the fertilizer to monocrops that have no other defenses against pests, ship the corn and feed it to cows, pigs and chickens in large CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations) - not to mention FISH???!!!!, and all of the toxic waste from CAFO-fed animals (compared to humanely, pasture raised, grass-fed animals), not to mention the antibiotics needed for beef since they cannot digest corn and literally get sick from eating it and showing up in our food supply.  And I won't even discuss the false promise of ethanol.



I am sickened by the sheer amount of High Fructose Corn Syrup in EVERYTHING! It is hard to read a nutrition label and NOT find it there even if the food is not sweet.

And those horrible commercials that try to pass off corn syrup as an ok thing. "it has the same amount of calories as sugar...." blah blah blah!

I think we need to do a complete turn around with the food we buy and eat. Why does everything have so much sodium? And why does almost everything (even a lot of 'health' foods) include High Fructose Corn Syrup?

I like corn, and I do eat it once and a while. But I am pissed over corn syrup... if you hadn't noticed. lol



Polenta!

It's a mush "made by" boiling "ground yellow or white cornmeal" (Wikipedia). Recent versions cook quickly. It can be eaten hot or kept in the fridge for a while. Later you can grill single slices with or withour cheese on top. Traditionally, Italians would cut it with a string. It can be accompanied with all sorts of things - from a bit of milk or yogurt to mushroom sauce to or all kinds of sauces or meat, and for a fancy version it can be served with  baccalà alla Vicentina (codfish Vicenza - style, like this I suppose http://www.academiabarilla.com/recipes/step-step-recipes/cod fish-vicenza-style.aspx, Vicenza is near Venice) to anything you like.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polenta

made with ground yellow or whitecornmeal


P.S. When corn was brought from the Americas the North Italians' world became more colorful. Before that their polenta was grey. :)



This is a favorite of mine, but had to mess w/ recipe to cut the calories down. I think I cut the butter in half, used light or fat free sour cream(Breakstone's or Daisy -since they don't have gelatin which doesn't work well when baked), and no sugar is called for in my recipe. It was still very good.



That is the recipe for corn pudding above. Sorry.



I have to agree that for the most part I am on the side of the more radical thinkers on this page--down with Monsanto and gmo foods!

As someone from a Native American background, though, I can't completely side against corn either.  My favorite corn dish was a calabacitas, made in New Mexico--I've tried to make it since and it just doesn't taste the same!



One of the best ideas I've found is using corn kernels as a sweet contrast note in very spicy dishes like shrimp fra diavolo. Emeril's Chop House does it this way with a little smoked mozzarella sauce on the bottom to mix in and it's fantastic.



I've seen references to corn in ancient Rome and that was B.C.  It was part of the grain dole to keep the masses fed.



Love corn!  Unfortunately, high fructose corn syrup is a bane to me!  Since I cut out foods with it (which is quite a lot, BTW) my glucose has returned to normal and I have finally begun to lose weight.  Corn is still high in sugars and you should really consider how much of it you want to eat, especially if you have been told you're pre-diabetic!



I've seen references to corn in ancient Rome and that was B.C.  It was part of the grain dole to keep the masses fed.

They must have been referring to grain, with a broader use of the word 'corn."  Corn is definitely a New World cultivar that didn't reach the rest of the world till after Contact. And then it, as well as potatoes, quickly changed the world -- part of what fueled the Industrial Revolution.   It is part of the irony that at the time of Contact the largest empire on earth was in South America.

I re-read the chapter I was referring to above and I was incorrect that corn is only a millenia old.  It does appear that it didn't make it throughout the Americas till the past millenia, but there were tiny variations of it being cultivated in Mexico much further back.  Technically, Mexico is part of North America, so my statement that it came from South America is also incorrect. 



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