Plants

Facts about corn

20 corn facts

Gold of the Americas

Maize is considered to have originated in Mesoamerica, where its cultivation had a significant impact on the ancient civilizations that developed there. It even earned the nickname "the gold of the Americas" because it was the basis of food, a trading commodity, and an object of religious worship.

Thanks to trade contacts, it spread to other regions of the world, and thanks to Columbus, it came to Europe. It is produced more than any other grain, and the United States is the leader in its production.

Corn
1
Corn (Zea) is an annual grass in the family Gramineae, a subfamily of panicles that includes plants such as wheat, rye, barley, rice, sorghum, sugarcane, and others.

There are two main species of the genus Zea (out of six total): Zea mays - common corn and Zea diploperennsis - teosinte (a perennial wild variety), which is more of a weed that readily crosses with corn.

An annual variety of teosinte (teosynta) called Zea mays mexicana is the closest botanical relative of corn. It still grows in the wild as an annual plant in Mexico and Guatemala.

Maize is believed to be a degenerate form of this grass that evolved through mutation and was perpetuated by humans.

2
The origin of corn is not fully explained.

The dispute over its origin is long-standing and has been between different regions of America, Africa, and Asia. However, most historians believe corn was domesticated in the Tehuacan Valley or the Balsas River Valley of Mexico about 9,000 years ago.

The oldest extant types of corn are from the Mexican highlands, from where corn spread to the Americas.

3
Corn cultivation was introduced to South America from Mexico in two great waves.
More than 6,000 years ago, the first spread in the Andes (evidence of cultivation in Peru was found from about 6,700 years ago). The second wave spread about 2000 years ago through the lowlands of South America.
4
The ancient Maya and Aztec cultures were strongly associated with the cultivation of corn.

It had a significant influence on these civilizations because it was an essential food source. In addition, it was surrounded by religious worship, believing that the gods made man out of flour from corn.

The cultivation of corn contributed to the displacement of the hunter-gatherer culture and the transition to an agricultural economy.

5
After the arrival of Europeans in Mesoamerica in 1492, Spanish settlers consumed corn, although they much preferred wheat bread.

It was also related to the fact that wheat flour could not be substituted for corn flour when making the Eucharistic wafer ( in the Christian faith, only wheat bread could be transubstantiated into the body of Christ).

Some Spaniards also feared that by eating corn, which they did not consider a valuable food, they would weaken themselves and become more like the Indians.

From the Europeans' point of view, the food they ate, more than the environment they lived in, gave the Indians and Spaniards both distinctive physical features and distinct personalities.

6
Despite health concerns, settlers ate corn, and explorers and traders eventually brought it to Europe.
Corn spread to the rest of the world because of its ability to grow in different climates. It was already grown in Spain decades after Columbus' voyages and then spread to Italy, West Africa and other countries.
7
The widespread cultivation of corn probably began in southern Spain in 1525.

It had many advantages over wheat or barley - it yielded two and a half times more food energy (the chemical energy that animals derive from food to sustain metabolism) per unit of cultivated area.

In addition, corn could grow in successive years in the same field, in different climates (both dry and wet), and at different altitudes.

8
By the 17th century, corn had become a common food for the agricultural population in southwestern Europe.
In the 18th century, it was the primary food of the peasantry of southern France and Italy, where it was consumed mainly in the form of polenta (a dish of cooked corn flour).
9
Corn has also played an important role in the history of the United States. When the first settlers arrived on the North American continent in December 1620, they lacked food, and many died. Those who survived were helped by Indians who shared food with them and showed them how to grow corn, squash, and legumes.

To repay them, the settlers organized a festival of thanksgiving lasting several days after the first harvest, thanking the natives for their help in surviving the first year on the new land.

The Festival was somewhat a seedline of the national Thanksgiving Day holiday established in 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln.

10
The corn plant often grows up to 3 m (10ft) tall, although some varieties can reach as high as 13 m (42,5 ft).

The tallest recorded plant reached 14 meters (46 feet) in height. The corn stalk consists of 20 internodes 18 cm (7 in) long. The leaves grow from the internodes alternately and are entire-edged.

The tip of the plant ends in a male inflorescence. When it is mature, the anthers burst, and anemophilous (spread by the wind) pollen is released. Female inflorescences are set on shortened lateral stems that form flasks.

The fruit is a cob with a shape and color depending on the variety (from white, through yellow, orange, brown, to dark purple).

11
The cob usually contains 600 grains.
The grains are pea-sized and cling in regular rows around the white, fleshy substance that forms the cob.
12
Immature corn shoots accumulate the potent antibiotic substance DIMBOA.

DIMBOA (2,4-dihydroxy-7-methoxy-1,4-benzoxazin-3-one) belongs to a group of hydroxamic acids (benzoxazinoids) that serve as natural defenses against a wide range of pests, including insects, pathogenic fungi, and bacteria. As corn matures, DIMBOA levels decrease.

DIMBOA is also found in wheat.

13
The root system of corn is shallow.
Because of this, corn is susceptible to drought, cannot tolerate nutrient-poor soils, and is vulnerable to uprooting by strong winds.
14
Corn was first cultivated in what is now the United States in a few places in New Mexico and Arizona about 4100 years ago.

The spread of large-scale cultivation and consumption in eastern North America occurred around 900 AD. It was grown along with beans and squash on hillsides by Native Americans in a complex system known as the "Three Sisters."

Corn provided support for the beans, and the beans provided nitrogen from nitrogen-fixing rhizobia bacteria that live on the roots of beans and other legumes. "The third sister" was squash, which covered the ground, preventing weed growth and also inhibited evaporation by providing shade to the soil.

15
Corn is widely grown worldwide, and more corn kernels are produced each year than any other grain.
In 2020, total global production was 1.16 billion tons, led by the United States (31% of the total). 22.4% of the global volume was produced by China.
16
Corn is a staple food in many regions of the world.

It is used to produce corn starch, a staple ingredient in home cooking and many industrial food products. Corn starch can be hydrolyzed and enzymatically treated to produce syrups, especially high fructose corn syrup, and fermented and distilled to produce grain alcohol.

Corn grain alcohol is the traditional source for Bourbon production. Corn flour is used to make cornbread.

17
In prehistoric times, Mesoamerican women used special querns (metate) to process corn into ground corn flour.
Corn flour allowed them to prepare foods that were more caloric. After the invention of pottery, the Olmecs cooked corn with beans, which increased its nutritional value.
18
Although corn naturally contains niacin (nicotinic acid, vitamin B3, vitamin PP), it was not bioavailable without the process of nixtamalization (soaking and cooking the grain in an alkaline solution, usually lime water, washing and husking).

The Maya used such flour to make various porridges and tamales (grated corn wrapped in corn leaves), which were later used in the cuisine of the American South to prepare mămăligă, among other dishes.

Corn is a staple of Mexican cuisine.

19
Sweet corn, which is a variety that is high in sugars and low in starch can also be eaten unripened.
It is often consumed in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Cyprus, parts of South America, and the Balkans.
20
Maize as a crop is characterized by high productivity and nutritional value. Therefore, it is a staple food in underdeveloped countries, while it is mainly used as livestock feed in highly developed countries.

It is a thermophilic root crop that requires temperatures above 10 °C (50 °F) for germination and above 16 °C (60 °F) in subsequent stages of vegetation. Its greatest growth occurs at 22 °C (72 °F).

In Europe, the main maize growing areas are: Ukraine, Romania, Hungary, France and Serbia.

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