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Corn -- a most `A-maizing' plant

Later this summer, when you sink your teeth into a cob of supersweet corn, remember this vegetable's humble beginnings.

Corn has come a long way. Seven thousand years ago it was a tiny cob that contained four rows of kernels. Pre-historic man developed corn from a native Mexican grass. It took Indians another 1,000 years to develop corn into a primitive, domesticated product -- good for feeding empires, but not sweet and tasty as it is today.

Corn is the grain of the western hemisphere. Dubbed "maize" by American natives, it had supported great civilizations by the time Christopher Columbus sailed to the new world and returned to Spain with its seeds. European botanists considered it a curio, but they went to work developing it: Within a hundred years, corn had spread across Europe, Asia and Africa.

Although corn-on-the-cob is a popular late-summer and fall mealtime treat, most corn grown in the United States -- about 45 percent -- is consumed as animal feed. Less than 2 percent of the country's corn crop is consumed by people. Corn has found uses other than as a food. Corn syrup sweetens our soft drinks. Ethanol, a fuel derived from corn, powers our cars. Trash bags are developed from corn. Corn by-products turn up everywhere -- in ink, batteries, marshmallows and mustard -- even in golf tees.

Corn is a food with a past, a present and a future. But for now, pass another ear, glaze it with butter and sink your teeth into the taste of summer.

Photo: Judy Sedbrook

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Date last revised: 01/05/2010