8 Things You Didn't Know About Corn

It's hard to believe that before its domestication roughly nine thousand years ago corn looked more like wheat than the meaty golden kernels we know today.


For one thing, it makes for a great sleeping bag. Photo: Dennis Brekke / Flickr

We owe a lot to corn. It’s hard to believe that before its domestication roughly nine thousand years ago corn looked more like wheat than the meaty golden kernels we know today.

After many millennia of human manipulation, corn began being cultivated in Mesoamerica sometime around 2,500 B.C. In that time, Native Americans grew to consider it one of the Three Sister plants (along with squash and beans) and it remains the most widely grown grain crop in the Americas.

Let’s shuck away at this husky crop for more intel.

1. Corn Was So Valuable Settlers Used It To Barter For Fur And Meat


This kid = striking it rich. Photo: Boston Public Library / Flickr

When Spanish explorers first made their way to the New World, along with gold, the Aztecs offered them thousands of bushels of corn as a tribute.

When European settlers finally came to North America, corn was so valuable they bartered it for furs and meat. At 1,300 kernels per pound, feed bags were the first wallet. Even today, Croatia’s one lipa coin shows a maize stalk with two ripe ears.

Anyone else wonder what the today’s exchange rate is from corn to dollars?

2. We Grow Enough Corn To Cover All Of California


When you look at it from this angle, it’s not quite as impressive.

Corn is used to feed us, our livestock and even our automobiles, so we need a lot of it. How much? In the U.S. alone, corn covers 97 million acres, which is about the same size as California.

Just imagine how much land we’d cover if all that corn were popped at once.

3. Archaeologists Were Able To Pop Thousand-Year-Old Kernels


“By golly, I think it’s popping!” - one of the archaeologists (probably). Photo: theilr / Flickr

On average, dried corn will last a surprisingly decent 10 to 12 years, but they’ve discovered nearly 6,000-year-old corn in caves of New Mexico. And well-­preserved tombs along the coast of Peru confirmed that corn kernels have one heck of a shelf life – at nearly a thousand-years-old, the kernels were still able to be popped.

Makes you seriously reconsider that “ancient” bag of Orville Redenbacker’s hiding in the back of your pantry for the last few years, doesn’t it?

4. We Eat Less Than 1% Of The Corn That We Grow


Well, if you consider the fact that we eat the pig that eats the corn, we’re still eating a lot of corn. Photo: Leo Fung / Flickr

The corn we actually eat (popped or on the cob) makes up less than 1% of the total yield produced. As of 2013, just 15% of corn grown is used for some form of human consumption that includes corn syrup and whiskey.

So where does the rest go? Forty percent goes to making ethanol, and the remaining 45% is used to feed livestock.

5. More Than 260 Cornfield Mazes Exist


And they’re all as evil as they look. Photo: Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism / Flickr

Mazes are becoming big business. Farmers can expect to make thousands to tens of thousand in supplemental income, and there are even software programs that use GPS technology to design them.

In business since 1996, Utah-based The MAiZE Inc. matches points created on their computers with rows in a field (similar to a connect­-the-­dots game) to determine the pathways to cut out. To date, they’ve designed just under 3,000 paths to find your way out of. A-maize-ing.

6. Native Americans Made Beer From Corn


World’s prettiest beer! Photo: Anthony Tong Lee / Flickr

If barley, malt and rice can be used to make beer, why not corn? Native Americans made beer from it, and even today you can find a fermented corn drink called tejuino in parts of Mexico while chicha de jora is a popular drink in Peru.

Just don’t expect to get wasted on the stuff. Typical alcohol content for either is somewhere between 1%-3% ABV, so be prepared to drink A LOT.

7. Skiers Use Corn As A Way To Describe Snow


Just chillin’, analyzing the snow in terms of corn. Photo: Zach Dischner / Flickr

Corn snow is the repeating cycle of it melting during the day and refreezing in the evening that create small pellets. The resulting rough, granular consistency, which often occurs in spring, is ideal for shredding down the mountainside.

8. Corn Is Over Taking Rice In Asia


The corn conspiracy lives on. Photo: Luz / Flickr

While we tend to equate rice with Asia, corn is quickly becoming the grain of choice and is already China’s top grain, although the majority of it goes to feed livestock.

Compared to rice, corn grows quicker, is far less labor intensive, requires less water and can be grown in more climates.

For more stories about, well – more, check out 7 Things You Didn’t Know About Pickles, as well as 9 Foods To Keep Your Skin Shimmering Through Winter.