There are a number of different types of maize:
- Field corn in the U.S. is used mainly to feed livestock, but in other countries is used for human consumption as well.
- Sweet corn, the type most commonly eaten in the U.S., is a genetic variation that accumulates more sugar and less starch in the kernels; it is usually shorter than field corn.
- Baby corn, popularly used in Asian cuisine, is a variety of maize developed to produce many small ears, rather than a few larger ones. The ears are harvested very young while they are still immature, and are tender enough for the whole ear to be eaten.
- Popcorn, the ability of maize kernels to “pop” and expand upon heating, was also discovered by the Native Americans. Maize is able to pop because, unlike other grains, its kernels have a hard moisture-sealing hull and a dense starchy filling. When heated, pressure builds inside the kernel until an explosive “pop” results, and the starch expands and then hardens in the cooler air. Many maize varieties will pop, but some varieties have been specifically cultivated for this purpose.
- Indian corn was originally the term applied to what we now know as maize or corn, to differentiate it from the generic term of “corn” Europeans used for all grains at that time. Now, it usually refers to any corn that has different colored kernels. Usually it is dried and used for ornamental purposes.
Maize can also be used in a number of other ways:
- Maize flour, or meal, is made into a thick porridge in many cultures (polenta, Italy; angu, Brazil; mãmãligã, Romania; sadza, nshima, ugali, and mealie pap, Africa). Maize meal is also used as a replacement for wheat flour, to make cornbread and other baked products.
- Masa (cornmeal treated with lime water) is the main ingredient for tortillas, atole, and many other dishes of Mexican food.
- Cornstarch is made from maize kernels, which are high in starch, and used as a thickening agent in soups.
- Corn syrup is used as a sweetener instead of sugar in thousands of products, including soda, candy, cookies and bread.
- Kitty litter made from maize is environmentally-friendly.
- Corn for cows, hogs, catfish and chickens: the largest market for maize in the U.S. is actually as food for livestock (sometimes called fodder, or silage). Cows eat field corn, not the sweet corn that people in the U.S. usually eat. Maize is also a large component of commercial chicken feed, as well as food for catfish, especially in farmed catfish.
- Maize mazes: mazes are a fun use of maize. Rows of maize are planted in the shape of a maze. The locations of some “amazing maize mazes” can be found here: http://www.americanmaze.com/