Ready for an a-Maize-ing Week?
I was preparing the post for a recipe for Texas Buttermilk Cornbread and it got me thinking….you don’t get more American than Corn.
No really. The top three crops grown in the world are wheat, rice and corn; within the United States corn tops the list as the number one crop for harvest. North America (so this includes Mexico and other Latin countries) harvest 332 metric tons in a year. The American portion of that number makes up 40% of the total corn in the world and of that number how much do we actually eat as corn?
Corn is the crop we grow in the greatest quantity and yet we only consume, in its natural form, 3% of what gets harvested. I’ll be delving more into why that is in a future post because there’s enough to talk about with corn, and I have quite few recipes, to make this an “A-Maize-ing Week.”
Domestication of corn began in the mesoamericas 10,000 years ago. The plant has several names you may have heard: Zea mays, Teosinte, Maize, Indian corn and variations of Corn like Sweet/Dent/Popcorn etc. I’m going to try to explain all the taxonomy for you now. Zea is name of a genus of grasses, Zea mays being the variety we know as corn, and teosinte is a name given to many other varieties of Zea we do not consume. Teosinte looks nothing like the corn we eat but it has played a part in the genetic manipulation of corn over the centuries. It was only through a great deal of human directed evolution that we have edible corn today. I’ll get into that more for my GMO post.
“Maiz” was the Spanish form of a word used by the Taino people for corn. These were the indigenous people that Columbus (Spanish explorer, see, starting to make sense now) interacted with during his (in)famous discovery of America. The British referred to any cereal crop as corn. Cereal crops include wheat, rice, barley and so on. Eventually the term became associated just maize. Terminology’d!
The most traditional variety of corn, classic bumblebee yellow, is rich in carotenoids. I mean REALLY rich. There’s still a lot of research left to be done to determine the bioavailability of antioxidants in foods; oftentimes high levels of different compounds can cause your body to selectively bind, or not bind, the nutrients in food. To date however it appears that with corn we are able to absorb the beta-carotenes present despite incredibly high levels of other carotenoids. Dried corn does not lose a significant amount of the antioxidants which is even better news since dried corn can make an excellent snack.
Less commonly consumed blue/red varieties of corn are actually a source of those highly desirable anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are super anti-oxidants that are naturally occurring in only a few fruits: blackberries, blueberries and pomegranates are probably the three most commonly consumed sources. Unfortunately these varieties are consumed far less than their sweet corn cousin.
Corn is also high in fiber, vitamin c, phosphorous, manganese, folate and a handful of the B vitamins. The B vitamins are not entirely available for absorption but I’ll save that story for another day. I think it’s time for a recipe don’t you?
This cornbread is not what most people, especially those not from the south, are going to be used to. It is very dry and lacks sweetness. I wasn’t even really aware of this and so I made it with jalapeno and some cheddar cheese on top thinking I’d be serving this cornbread with a meal. It’s actually closer to something called “Corn Pone” which is a variation of corn bread, often eaten crumbled into buttermilk because it’s so dry. The term has been used in the South, often to refer to someone who is unsophisticated–a hick. Probably because the bread itself is very simple, plain and would be baked by the poor since it requires only the cheapest of ingredients. There aren’t even any eggs used to make it!
modified from Bon Apetit January 2008
- unsalted butter
- 2 cups yellow cornmeal
- 6 tablespoons all purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 1/3 cups buttermilk
- 1 seeded and diced jalapeno
- grated cheddar cheese (for sprinkling on top)
Preheat oven to 400°F. Brush 8x8x2-inch glass baking dish with 2 tablespoons butter. Place dish in oven 10 minutes (butter may brown).
Meanwhile, whisk cornmeal, flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in large bowl to blend. Add buttermilk and remaining 6 tablespoons melted butter. Add the diced jalapeno and stir batter just until evenly moistened (do not over mix).
Transfer cornbread batter to hot dish and spread evenly; sprinkle top with cheddar cheese. Bake cornbread until crusty on top and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Let cornbread cool at least 10 minutes.