Culinary Corner: The Wonders of Corn
By Rosanne Rust, MS, RDN
Vol. 25 No. 6 P. 62
An Ancient Crowd Pleaser
In my first biology class in high school, I was astonished to learn about plant genetics and, specifically, the genetics of corn. How can this humble vegetable be so genetically complex?
Corn kernels express numerous phenotypes, and these phenotypes are involved in the color and shape of the kernel. Corn cobs almost always have an even number of rows (16 on average) because cells that form a ridge on the cob create a pair of rows.
Most of the corn grown in the United States is field corn, which is harvested to feed livestock. Sweet corn is sold in grocery stores in the form of corn on the cob, in cans, and in the freezer section. Popcorn, a favorite movie theater treat, is a type of flint corn.1
Sweet corn is a source of vitamin C, potassium, and magnesium. One ear provides 10% DV of vitamin C, about 245 mg potassium, 17 g carbohydrate, 2.5 g fiber, 3 g protein, and 1 g fat.
Historically, corn goes as far back as the Aztec Indians. Selective breeding of the crop began in Mexico thousands of years ago and remains a key component of Latin American culture.2,3 “Corn is a whole grain that’s ubiquitous in Latin America,” says Loreno Drago, MS, RDN, CDN, CDCES, a Latin American food and nutrition specialist, adding that “Corn and corn products are a staple food in many Latin American countries,” but the way it’s prepared can “vary from country to country and region to region within the same country.”
For instance, street corn on the cob—or elote—often is served on a stick. This street delicacy uses fresh corn on the cob that’s roasted or grilled and combined in a creamy sauce. The modern-day street corn clients may be familiar with has its origins in Mexico City and is traced back to 1900. It remains a favorite street food that’s sold by street vendors or at food fairs in Mexico.
The following pasta salad side dish gives a nod to the flavors of the special sauce spread onto Mexican street corn. If clients don’t like mayonnaise, they can substitute low-fat yogurt. The recipe includes the flavor-vibe of Mexican street corn with spices and Cotija cheese. Cotija cheese is a mild cow’s milk cheese with a crumbly texture. It falls apart nicely into the salad and adds depth to the light yogurt dressing. The salad can be made a day ahead and stored in the refrigerator for up to three days. It’s perfect for summer picnics. Enjoy!
— Rosanne Rust, MS, RDN, is the owner of Rust Nutrition Services, which offers nutrition communications content to clients. She created her Chew the Facts brand that delivers food and nutrition science news and inspiration. She’s coauthored and authored several books, including DASH Diet for Dummies and Zero Waste Cooking for Dummies.
Street Corn–Style Pasta Salad
4 ears of corn
3 cups roasted corn, off the cob (or use 2 15-oz cans of corn)
1 tsp olive oil (or other vegetable oil)
1 lb cooked elbow macaroni
3 cups grape tomatoes, halved
5-oz can green chiles
15-oz can reduced-sodium black beans drained and rinsed
6 oz Cotija fresco cheese crumbled, divided (or substitute a Mexican blend or feta cheese)
1/4 cup chopped cilantro or parsley or
2 T dried (optional)
2 cups plain nonfat Greek yogurt
Juice and zest from one small lime
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp honey
2 tsp garlic powder
1 T chili powder
Salt and pepper to taste
1. To grill corn, place shucked corn on the cob in a bowl and drizzle with olive oil (or other vegetable oil) to coat. Place corn on a grill set to medium heat, turning every 2 to 3 minutes, until done or about 15 minutes. Once cooked, cut the corn off the cob and transfer to a large bowl to cool.
2. Add cooked pasta, tomatoes, chiles, and beans to the cooled corn. Mix to combine.
3. Add the dressing ingredients to a small bowl. Stir well to combine, then pour over pasta mixture and mix well.
4. Fold in the crumbled cheese (reserving a quarter cup for garnish) and cilantro (if using).
5. Refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight.
6. Stir lightly before serving, then garnish with reserved cheese crumbles and cilantro (optional).
Nutrient Analysis per serving
Calories: 276; Total fat: 5 g; Sat fat: 3 g; Cholesterol: 13 mg; Sodium: 209 mg; Total carbohydrate: 43 g; Dietary fiber: 5 g; Sugars: 6 g; Protein: 15 g
1. Different types of corn & how they are used. American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture website. https://www.agfoundation.org/news/different-types-of-corn-how-they-are-used. Published November 17, 2022. Accessed May 9, 2023.
2. Ancient DNA continues to rewrite corn’s 9,000-year society-shaping history. Smithsonian Institution website. https://www.si.edu/newsdesk/releases/ancient-dna-continues-rewrite-corns-9000-year-society-shaping-history. Published December 14, 2020.
3. Mexican food history. World Food and Wine website. https://www.worldfoodwine.com/mexican-food-history