Issue: November 2005

Corn Adds Flavor to Thanksgiving Feasts

Thanksgiving hosts can choose from a wide variety of corn to add flavor and color to holiday spreads.

In New Mexico, Native American corn varieties add Southwest flare to Thanksgiving tables. Blue corn and other regional varieties are typically ground into flours and meals to make a variety of traditional southwestern food products, such as tortillas. Blue corn tends to be higher in lysine, iron and zinc than white or yellow dent corn varieties. Blue corn also has a coarser, sweeter and nuttier taste than other corns grown for flour or meal.

Try decorating Thanksgiving tables with ornamental corn, which comes in different colors, shapes and sizes. Pull back the husks of ornamental corns and tie them together with a ribbon. Or, try weaving husks together to form a corn ristra to hang on front doors and other places.

Corn is one of the most diverse grain crops found in nature. The characteristics of kernels vary widely in different types of corn.

Dent corn kernels have flinty or hard sides and soft starch cores that cause kernel ends to collapse or dent when drying. Dent corn foliage and stalks are used to make silage for dairy cows or corn syrups. The kernels are often processed into food products, such as cooking oils, grits, meals, flours, starches, sweeteners and fat substitutes. Non-food products include alcohol, paper, adhesives, paints, soaps, cosmetics, and nutrient medium for antibiotics and vitamins.

Unlike dent corn, sweet corn is grown primarily for fresh consumption. The genetic makeup of sweet corn slows the conversion of sugar to starch in kernels, making it much sweeter than other corn varieties. Super- or extra-sweet varieties are particularly tasty.

Popcorn makes a great holiday snack. One of the oldest forms of corn, popcorns are generally classified into pearl or rice varieties. Pearl types have smooth, rounded, pearl-like crowns. Rice types are pointed. Popcorns also vary in color. Popcorn kernals have a hard, flinty outer casing that surrounds a small amount of soft moist starch in the center. Heating the kernel turns the moisture into steam. As it expands, it splits the casing and causes the inside tissue to explode, turning the kernel inside out.

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For more gardening information, visit New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service publications world wide web site at

George W. Dickerson, Ph.D., is is a horticulturist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. New Mexico State University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer and educator.