Corn is corn, right? Not so fast! There are several different types of corn and not all of them are the kind of corn we eat.
Dent corn gets its name because of the dent, or dimple, that forms on the top of each kernel when it starts drying out. It is commonly called “field corn” and is not eaten by humans. That's right, the most commonly grown corn in the United States is grown for other purposes. It's used for fuel, livestock feed and in thousands of other bio-based products like carpet, cosmetics and aspirin.
Dent corn is also used to make ethanol. The by-products of ethanol—distillers’ grains—can provide high-quality food for our livestock.
Dent corn is more commonly grown here than sweet corn, mostly because it's in higher demand. Only about one percent of the all the corn grown in the United States is sweet corn.
Sweet corn is the main kind of corn people eat. This is the type you'll find in the produce aisle of your grocery store.
If you’ve ever taken a bite out of an ear of field corn you’ll know pretty quickly it’s not the same as sweet corn. Field corn is much higher in starch and doesn’t have as much sugar to make it sweet like the other types. Sweet corn is harvested when the kernels are soft and flavorful. Field corn is harvested later in the season when the plant has dried, the leaves and stalk have turned brown, and the kernels are hard.
Fun Fact: Sweet corn kernels always grow in an even number of rows on the cob.
This is used — you guessed it — as a crunchy snack. Popcorn is similar to field corn. The seed is especially neat because different varieties can grow different colors of kernels.
Corn flour is made from ground, dried corn and is often found in corn tortillas and corn chips. (You can make your own corn flour using popcorn kernels!)
Flint corn, which we know as Indian corn, is more common in Central and South America. There, they use flint corn similar to how we use field corn — as feed for livestock. It's not grown much in the United States, although it can be found in one top agritourism attraction!
- Corn is grown in every state of the United States.
- One bushel of field corn weighs 56 pounds.
- Each bushel used for ethanol produces 2.8 gallons of fuel, 18 pounds of dried distillers’ grains (a high protein livestock feed), 14 pounds of corn gluten pellets, 1.8 pounds of corn oil and 17 pounds of carbon dioxide (used in dry ice, the beverage industry, water treatment facilities and other applications).
- In 2015, Kansas harvested 3.9 million acres that produced 580 million bushels of corn for grain.