Vegetable maize (sweet corn)
Maize and cornmeal (ground dried maize) constitute a staple food in many regions of the world.
Maize is central to Mexican food. Virtually every dish in Mexican cuisine uses maize. In the form of grain or cornmeal, maize is the main ingredient of tortillas, tamales, pozole, atole and all the dishes based on them, like tacos, quesadillas, chilaquiles, enchiladas, tostadas and many more. In Mexico even a fungus of maize, known as huitlacoche is considered a delicacy.
Introduced into Africa by the Portuguese in the 16th century, maize has become Africa's most important staple food crop. Maize meal is made into a thick porridge in many cultures: from the polenta of Italy, the angu of Brazil, the mămăligă of Romania, to cornmeal mush in the US (and hominy grits in the South) or the food called mealie pap in South Africa and sadza, nshima and ugali in other parts of Africa. Maize meal is also used as a replacement for wheat flour, to make cornbread and other baked products. Masa (cornmeal treated with limewater) is the main ingredient for tortillas, atole and many other dishes of Central American food.
Popcorn consists of kernels of certain varieties that explode when heated, forming fluffy pieces that are eaten as a snack. Roasted dried maize ears with semihardened kernels, coated with a seasoning mixture of fried chopped spring onions with salt added to the oil, is a popular snack food in Vietnam. Cancha, which are roasted maize chulpe kernels, are a very popular snack food in Peru, and also appears in traditional Peruvian ceviche. An unleavened bread called makki di roti is a popular bread eaten in the Punjab region of India and Pakistan.
Chicha and chicha morada (purple chicha) are drinks typically made from particular types of maize. The first one is fermented and alcoholic, the second is a soft drink commonly drunk in Peru.
Corn flakes are a common breakfast cereal in North America and the United Kingdom, and found in many other countries all over the world.
Maize can also be prepared as hominy, in which the kernels are soaked with lye in a process called nixtamalization; or grits, which are coarsely ground hominy. These are commonly eaten in the Southeastern United States, foods handed down from Native Americans, who called the dish sagamite.
The Brazilian dessert canjica is made by boiling maize kernels in sweetened milk.
Maize can also be harvested and consumed in the unripe state, when the kernels are fully grown but still soft. Unripe maize must usually be cooked to become palatable; this may be done by simply boiling or roasting the whole ears and eating the kernels right off the cob. Sweet corn, a genetic variety that is high in sugars and low in starch, is usually consumed in the unripe state. Such corn on the cob is a common dish in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Cyprus, some parts of South America, and the Balkans, but virtually unheard of in some European countries. Corn on the cob was hawked on the streets of early 19th-century New York City by poor, barefoot "Hot Corn Girls", who were thus the precursors of hot dog carts, churro wagons, and fruit stands seen on the streets of big cities today. The cooked, unripe kernels may also be shaved off the cob and served as a vegetable in side dishes, salads, garnishes, etc. Alternatively, the raw unripe kernels may also be grated off the cobs and processed into a variety of cooked dishes, such as maize purée, tamales, pamonhas, curau, cakes, ice creams, etc.
Maize is a major source of starch. Cornstarch (maize flour) is a major ingredient in home cooking and in many industrialized food products. Maize is also a major source of cooking oil (corn oil) and of maize gluten. Maize starch can be hydrolyzed and enzymatically treated to produce syrups, particularly high fructose corn syrup, a sweetener; and also fermented and distilled to produce grain alcohol. Grain alcohol from maize is traditionally the source of Bourbon whiskey. Maize is sometimes used as the starch source for beer.
Within the United States, the usage of maize for human consumption constitutes about 1/40th of the amount grown in the country. In the United States and Canada, maize is mostly grown to feed livestock, as forage, silage (made by fermentation of chopped green cornstalks), or grain. Maize meal is also a significant ingredient of some commercial animal food products, such as dog food.
Raw, yellow, sweet maize kernels are composed of 76% water, 19% carbohydrates, 3% protein, and 1% fat (table). In a 100-gram serving, maize kernels provide 86 calories and are a good source (10-19% of the Daily Value) of the B vitamins, thiamin, niacin (but see Pellagra warning below), pantothenic acid (B5) and folate (right table for raw, uncooked kernels, USDA Nutrient Database). In moderate amounts, they also supply dietary fiber and the essential minerals, magnesium and phosphorus whereas other nutrients are in low amounts (table).
Maize has suboptimal amounts of the essential amino acids tryptophan and lysine, which accounts for its lower status as a protein source. The indigenous Americans overcame this deficiency with the inclusion of beans in their diet.
Feed and fodder for livestock
Maize is a major source of both grain feed and fodder for livestock. It is fed to the livestock in various ways. When it is used as a grain crop, the dried kernels are used as feed. They are often kept on the cob for storage in a corn crib, or they may be shelled off for storage in a grain bin. The farm that consumes the feed may produce it, purchase it on the market, or some of both. When the grain is used for feed, the rest of the plant (the corn stover) can be used later as fodder, bedding (litter), or soil amendment. When the whole maize plant (grain plus stalks and leaves) is used for fodder, it is usually chopped all at once and ensilaged, as digestibility and palatability are higher in the ensilaged form than in the dried form. Maize silage is one of the most valuable forages for ruminants. Before the advent of widespread ensilaging, it was traditional to gather the corn into shocks after harvesting, where it dried further. With or without a subsequent move to the cover of a barn, it was then stored for weeks to several months until fed to the livestock. Today ensilaging can occur not only in siloes but also in silage wrappers. However, in the tropics maize can be harvested year-round and fed as green forage to the animals.
Starch from maize can also be made into plastics, fabrics, adhesives, and many other chemical products.
The corn steep liquor, a plentiful watery byproduct of maize wet milling process, is widely used in the biochemical industry and research as a culture medium to grow many kinds of microorganisms.
Chrysanthemin is found in purple corn and is used as a food coloring.
"Feed maize" is being used increasingly for heating; specialized corn stoves (similar to wood stoves) are available and use either feed maize or wood pellets to generate heat. Maize cobs are also used as a biomass fuel source. Maize is relatively cheap and home-heating furnaces have been developed which use maize kernels as a fuel. They feature a large hopper that feeds the uniformly sized maize kernels (or wood pellets or cherry pits) into the fire.
Maize is increasingly used as a feedstock for the production of ethanol fuel. When considering where to construct an ethanol plant, one of the site selection criteria is to ensure there is locally available feedstock. Ethanol is mixed with gasoline to decrease the amount of pollutants emitted when used to fuel motor vehicles. High fuel prices in mid-2007 led to higher demand for ethanol, which in turn led to higher prices paid to farmers for maize. This led to the 2007 harvest being one of the most profitable maize crops in modern history for farmers. Because of the relationship between fuel and maize, prices paid for the crop now tend to track the price of oil.
The price of food is affected to a certain degree by the use of maize for biofuel production. The cost of transportation, production, and marketing are a large portion (80%) of the price of food in the United States. Higher energy costs affect these costs, especially transportation. The increase in food prices the consumer has been seeing is mainly due to the higher energy cost. The effect of biofuel production on other food crop prices is indirect. Use of maize for biofuel production increases the demand, and therefore price of maize. This, in turn, results in farm acreage being diverted from other food crops to maize production. This reduces the supply of the other food crops and increases their prices.
Farm-based maize silage digester located near Neumünster
in Germany, 2007. Green inflatable biogas holder is shown on top of the digester
Maize is widely used in Germany as a feedstock for biogas plants. Here the maize is harvested, shredded then placed in silage clamps from which it is fed into the biogas plants. This process makes use of the whole plant rather than simply using the kernels as in the production of fuel ethanol.
A biomass gasification power plant in Strem near Güssing, Burgenland, Austria, began in 2005. Research is being done to make diesel out of the biogas by the Fischer Tropsch method.
Increasingly, ethanol is being used at low concentrations (10% or less) as an additive in gasoline (gasohol) for motor fuels to increase the octane rating, lower pollutants, and reduce petroleum use (what is nowadays also known as "biofuels" and has been generating an intense debate regarding the human beings' necessity of new sources of energy, on the one hand, and the need to maintain, in regions such as Latin America, the food habits and culture which has been the essence of civilizations such as the one originated in Mesoamerica; the entry, January 2008, of maize among the commercial agreements of NAFTA has increased this debate, considering the bad labor conditions of workers in the fields, and mainly the fact that NAFTA "opened the doors to the import of maize from the United States, where the farmers who grow it receive multimillion dollar subsidies and other government supports. (...) According to OXFAM UK, after NAFTA went into effect, the price of maize in Mexico fell 70% between 1994 and 2001. The number of farm jobs dropped as well: from 8.1 million in 1993 to 6.8 million in 2002. Many of those who found themselves without work were small-scale maize growers."). However, introduction in the northern latitudes of the US of tropical maize for biofuels, and not for human or animal consumption, may potentially alleviate this.
As a result of the US federal government announcing its production target of 35 billion US gallons (130,000,000 m3) of biofuels by 2017, ethanol production will grow to 7 billion US gallons (26,000,000 m3) by 2010, up from 4.5 billion in 2006, boosting ethanol's share of maize demand in the US from 22.6 percent to 36.1 percent.
Maize is bought and sold by investors and price speculators as a tradable commodity using corn futures contracts. These "futures" are traded on the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) under ticker symbol C. They are delivered every year in March, May, July, September, and December.
Ornamental and other uses
Some forms of the plant are occasionally grown for ornamental use in the garden. For this purpose, variegated and colored leaf forms as well as those with colorful ears are used.
Corncobs can be hollowed out and treated to make inexpensive smoking pipes, first manufactured in the United States in 1869.
Children playing in a maize kernel box
An unusual use for maize is to create a "corn maze" (or "maize maze") as a tourist attraction. The idea of a maize maze was introduced by the American Maze Company who created a maze in Pennsylvania in 1993. Traditional mazes are most commonly grown using yew hedges, but these take several years to mature. The rapid growth of a field of maize allows a maze to be laid out using GPS at the start of a growing season and for the maize to grow tall enough to obstruct a visitor's line of sight by the start of the summer. In Canada and the US, these are popular in many farming communities.
Maize kernels can be used in place of sand in a sandboxlike enclosure for children's play.
Stigmas from female maize flowers, popularly called corn silk, are sold as herbal supplements.
Maize is used as a fish bait, called "dough balls". It is particularly popular in Europe for coarse fishing.
Additionally, feed corn is sometimes used by hunters to bait animals such as deer or wild hogs.
United States usage breakdown
The breakdown of usage of the 12.1-billion-bushel (307-million-tonne) 2008 US maize crop was as follows, according to the World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates Report by the USDA.
|production of starch, corn oil, sweeteners (HFCS, etc.)
|human consumption—grits, corn flour, corn meal, beverage alcohol
In the US since 2009/2010, maize feedstock use for ethanol production has somewhat exceeded direct use for livestock feed; maize use for fuel ethanol was 5,130 million bushels (130 million tonnes) in the 2013/2014 marketing year.
A fraction of the maize feedstock dry matter used for ethanol production is usefully recovered as DDGS (dried distillers grains with solubles). In the 2010/2011 marketing year, about 29.1 million tonnes of DDGS were fed to US livestock and poultry. Because starch utilization in fermentation for ethanol production leaves other grain constituents more concentrated in the residue, the feed value per kg of DDGS, with regard to ruminant-metabolizable energy and protein, exceeds that of the grain. Feed value for monogastric animals, such as swine and poultry, is somewhat lower than for ruminants.