A fresh plate of cooked corn on the cob with a small dish of butter on the side.
Food & Drink

Delicious Differences: Corn

In Mexico, maize is more than just a crop used for nourishment. It’s also a deeply embedded part of the culture. Experts contend that when the Mesoamericans domesticated corn tens of thousands of years ago, it was one of humanity’s greatest achievements. Corn has long fed the indigenous people in both Mexico and America.

The United States: For the love of corn

The U.S. leads corn consumption around the world with more than 12,000 million bushels every year. Each bushel weighs somewhere around 70 pounds. Corn crops take up more acreage across the land, and it’s arguably one of the most productive and versatile farm staples. We use it to make ethanol, plant-based plastics, and high-fructose corn syrup.

What’s even more fascinating is the variety of ways we use corn in our kitchens and the cultural ties that bind. In the Southwest, the cuisine is heavily influenced by our southern neighbor. Mexico’s cooking traditions and flavors migrated north over the border, eventually giving way to Tex-Mex cuisine, which relies heavily on corn and cornmeal. Native Americans have long used corn — or “maize” — in their diets, too. Fresh corn, hominy, and cornmeal were a big part of their diets. All three remain popular in the U.S.

European Union: Perfect polenta

Corn doesn’t only have to make an appearance during the holiday season. There are a variety of ways to utilize corn in delicious, European inspired meals. Serbian cornbread is a popular staple paired with yogurt, sauerkraut, soft cheeses, and other dishes. And, of course, you can’t overlook the beautiful ways that Italy prepares and uses polenta. 

A delicious dinner party dish is brasato al Barolo, which pairs hearty, tender beef with creamy polenta for a dish that warms everyone up. When you say you’re making Italian, your guests might think you’re bringing pasta. But you can switch things up with this Northern Italian staple. 

Although the cooking takes some time, the prep is fast and easy. Just chip celery, onion, carrot, and garlic in the food processor, then brown the beef roast, cook the veggies, and combine everything in a Dutch oven with herbs, tomato puree, and Barolo wine until the beef was succulent and tender. You’ll be sure to wow your friends with this delicious dish.

Brazil: Porridge to pamonha

Of the 2,600 million bushels of corn that Brazil consumes every year, a large majority goes toward the country’s ethanol production. But there are some outstanding Brazilian dishes that incorporate corn into the mix. On a cold and blustery day, there’s nothing like a piping hot bowl of Sopa de Milho Verde (Brazilian corn chowder) or sweet white corn porridge studded with toasted peanuts. 

Pamonha is the country’s traditional corn-based food. This dish is kind of like Brazil’s take on tamales. Traditionally, you grate and juice ears of corn to make the paste-like dough. Then, fill it with sweet or savory fillings, wrap each individual one in corn husks, and boil them until they’re done. 

In the end, not only does corn make a delicious difference in unexpected ways, it is a big part of the culture in many countries and regions. Those traditional recipes and uses can be adapted, personalized, and modernized. While experimenting with corn in different recipes, you’ll begin to appreciate the different ways in which corn adds delicious flavor and texture to a variety of meals.