Corn can be used to produce everything from antibiotics to yogurt

Corn as high as an elephant’s eye is one of lines in Oscar Ham­merstein’s song Oh, What a Beautiful Morning.

And while people are not likely to see any of those large animals roaming Ontario corn fields, it is still an apt descrip­tion of the sheer height corn stalks can reach- in some cases, almost four metres high.

Historically, corn has an impressive history in this country. Archaeological stud­ies have found that corn was grown near Campbellville as long ago as 1200 AD. Ac­cord­ing to Iroquois legend, the native peoples believed corn, pole beans, and squash were The Three Sisters that needed to be planted together to sup­port and thrive off one another. 

Believe it or not, corn be­longs to the grass family and theories suggest that at one time, each individual kernel was covered by its own floral parts, similar to kernels of oats and barley. It is thought that this is what allowed the corn species to survive in our often harsh northern climate. The husk and cob we see today originally evolved from the wild varieties grown by native peoples.

The Flint variety generally has a larger grain with relativ­ely little flour tissue. Popcorn, a type of Flint corn, has a soft starchy centre that is encased in a hard exterior shell. When popcorn is heated, the natural moisture inside the kernel turns to steam that builds up enough pressure for the kernel to explode. The exploded kernels create that white starchy mass that movie goers love.  All typ­es of corn will pop to some degree but they will not necessarily have enough starch to turn in­side out, or possess an outside layer that will create enough pressure to explode.

Another variety is Flour corn which is soft, flour-like and breaks apart easily. Dent corn, which is a cross between Flint and Flour corn, usually pro­duces higher grain yields and is the predominant corn in North America and the rest of the world. 

Sweet corn is the result of a genetic mutation in Dent corn.  That genetic change prevents sugar in the kernels from being converted into starch; hence the sweet taste. Otherwise, sweet corn is identical to grain (field) corn. In Canada, sweet corn is a popular vegetable, eaten fresh (on the cob) or stored canned or frozen (on or off the cob). 

About 60 per cent of the grain corn grown in this pro­vince is used for livestock feed. Of the remaining 40 per cent, half of that is exported and the other half is used for industrial or commercial products. 

Without a doubt, corn is a vegetable of many uses. It can be found in adhesives, automo­biles, breakfast cereals, cos­metics, disposable diapers, in­stant coffee, ketchup, mayon­naise, penicillin, shoe polish and yogurt.

Corn quick facts:

– Of the 10,000 items in a typical grocery store, at least 2,500 products use corn in some form during production or processing.

– Antibiotics can include corn syrup and corn starch.

– Some brands of yoghurt use corn syrup as a sweetener.

– During the production of rubber tires, corn starch is sprinkled on the moulds before pouring the rubber to prevent it from sticking to the moulds. 

– Ethanol is a liquid alcohol that consists of carbon, hydro­gen, and oxygen. In Canada, ethanol is currently distilled pri­marily from grains such as corn and wheat.

Want to cobble together some more information on corn?  Check the Ontario Corn Pro­ducers’ Association at

Submitted by the Wellington Federation of Agriculture