Can You Eat Indian Corn?

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When you gather around your Thanksgiving table, you might notice a cornucopia adorned with colorful, ornamental corn cobs. These vibrant cobs, with their blue, orange, yellow, and black kernels, are a sight to behold. Yet, for many, these decorative elements remain untouched, relegated to the realm of ornaments rather than sustenance. But have you ever wondered, can you eat Indian corn? The answer might surprise you: Yes, you can!

A Corn with Many Names

Indian corn, often referred to as ornamental or decorative corn, also goes by the names Flint Corn and Calico Corn. These cobs are renowned for their stunning colors and hard texture.

Despite being associated with Native Americans, this corn variety was cultivated in China, South America, and India for centuries before its discovery by European settlers. In fact, it is one of the three types of corn originally harvested by Native Americans, with evidence of corn cultivation dating as far back as 1000 BC in what is now North America.

The Edible Beauty of Indian Corn

The good news is that Indian corn is indeed edible. In fact, it is much closer to the natural corn that once thrived in the Great Plains than the sweet corn we commonly consume today.

Calico Corn (Indian Corn) vs. Modern Sweet Corn

The transition from traditional corn to the modern sweet corn we know today began around 10,000 years ago in Central America. It involved selective breeding, where the seeds of preferred corn varieties were chosen and replanted. This selective breeding aimed to improve characteristics such as texture, color, or yield, leading to the development of sweeter corn varieties.

Traditional corn is harvested when the seeds are dry, at the dent stage, and is typically used like a grain to make flour.

Modern sweet corn, on the other hand, is sweeter due to a recessive trait that prevents sugar from converting to starch efficiently. This sweetness comes at the cost of reduced shelf life, as sweet corn spoils more quickly. As a result, it is harvested before reaching the dry stage, known as the milk stage.

Compared to sweet corn, Indian corn has roughly one-third the sugar content per medium ear, making it a more natural and less sugary option.

How to Utilize Indian Corn

Using Indian corn is a delightful culinary adventure. The corn seeds must be removed or “popped” from the cob before use. Once extracted, these seeds can be used for making popcorn or ground into flour.

Making Popcorn with Indian Corn

To make popcorn from Indian corn, you can follow these simple steps:

  1. Begin by covering the bottom of a pan with oil (e.g., olive oil or avocado oil, which has a higher smoke point).
  2. Add one to three Indian corn kernels and heat the oiled skillet until the corn pops.
  3. Once the initial kernels pop, add the rest of the Indian corn kernels, making sure not to overcrowd the pan.
  4. Cover the pan until you stop hearing popping sounds, which should take approximately 4-5 minutes, similar to microwave popcorn.

Grinding Indian Corn into Flour

Grinding Indian corn into flour is a rewarding endeavor that doesn’t require specialized equipment. You can use a standard coffee grinder or a versatile tool like a Magic Bullet Blender. Here’s how:

  1. Take your sifted Indian corn kernels and place them in the grinder.
  2. Grind until smooth. You can stop periodically to mix the corn dust around for more even grinding.
  3. After several grinding cycles, the corn meal will reach the consistency of flour, typically in 3-5 minutes.

The resulting Indian corn flour may have a slightly grittier texture than store-bought masa, but this adds unique character to your dishes without affecting the final cooked product.

So, if you’ve ever wondered whether you can eat Indian corn, the answer is a resounding yes! It’s not just for decoration; it’s a versatile ingredient that can be used to make popcorn, masa, grits, papusas, and more. Plus, it offers an earthy, rich taste and is typically non-GMO, making it a delightful addition to your culinary repertoire.

Now that you know you can savor Indian corn, why not give it a try and discover the delicious possibilities it holds?

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