Searches For “Is Maize The Same As Sweetcorn?” Are Common Online. So Are Questions Asking Is Corn The Same As Sweetcorn”, “What is the Difference Between Sweetcorn and Corn?”, “Is Sweetcorn the Same as Maize” & “Are Sweet corn and Field Corn The Same?” Here Are My Answers.

Maize (Zea mays, subspecies mays) is grown in many parts of the world. It’s a staple grain food for many millions of people and total production exceeds that of rice or wheat. But it’s a variable crop, known by many different names. for example, corn, Indian corn, sugar corn, pole corn, sweetcorn etc.

The variability is most obvious when we look at the colour of the kernels (grain) which can be white, yellow, red or other colours.

Maize, aka corn on the cob or sweetcorn
Maize, aka corn on the cob or sweetcorn

And to complicate the matter, many gardeners grow sweetcorn, (Zea mays convar. saccharata var. rugosa). But are maize and sweetcorn the same thing?

To answer that let’s first examine maize in more detail.

Is It Called Corn Or Maize?

Maize is the internationally preferred term for scientific and formal purposes. Only the US and a few other English speaking countries us the word corn to describe maize. Indeed in England, the undisputed home of the English language, the word corn refers to any plant that is grown for its grain, such as wheat; the grain of these plants … a field of corn … ears/sheaves of corn. Indeed it is the stem used in law when the Corn Laws were established in 1815 until the hotly debated repeal in 1846 by Robert Peel.

What is Maize Used For?

Maize is used for many things, not all food related. Firstly though it is consumed by humans, mainly as a maize flour that is used to produce various food, from masa ( a form of maize dough) to maize flour (cornflour); its also used as animal feed, either as maize grain or as silage (made from whole maize which means the stem, leaf and corn cob ensiled [fermented or pickled] in a silage clamp and kept until needed).

Another use is corn syrup production and we must forget that some of it is used for purposes other than h consumption by humans or animals as corn ethanol which is mixed with oil based fuel products as a biofuel.

Maize cob

Lastly let’s not forget another form of fermentation. Bourbon whiskey is made from corn (maize).

Where Is Maize Grown?

Maize is cultivated on an international basis, but especially in the Americas. The Americas ought not surprise us as the origins of corn is intrinsically linked with the indigenous people of Southern Mexico. It was here, around 9-10,000 years ago that maize or corn was first domesticated.

Why Grow Maize?

Historically the reason was probably due to ease of growing and harvesting. The seed is large, can be sown easily, soon grows above the smaller weeds and is easy to pick. Once the cob is ready to harvest it is relatively easy to pull it from the plant without bending!

Early farmers would have selectively bred the corn by choosing the biggest cobs from the biggest plants as the source of seed. Hence many varieties are still very big with tall plants. Tall plants confer another quality. Maize is wind fertilised. So the taller the plant the more likelihood of a slight breeze carrying the pollen to the tassel on the developing cob.

However, that’s not to say maize was always such a large plant with large cobs. Research indicates that early maize had just one cob per plant and that it was a small cob at that. Selective breeding, over thousands of years, produced the plant we see today.

Finally maize can provide a sizeable crop yield that stores well once dried. Drying is easy in drier climates. Just leave it on the plant to dehydrate. Once dry it can be stored until required to be ground into cornflour. Simple!

As maize cultivation spread to north America the indigenous people grew it as part of the famous Three Sisters cropping system of corn. beans ands squash. This was a particular favourite of the Iroquois and Cherokee peoples who valued the way each crop benefited the others.

The Major Types of Maize

The six major types of maize are flint corn, dent corn, pod corn, popcorn, flour corn, and sweet corn. All are maize but have different purposes, some being obvious from their names. Pop corn, for example, puffs up and pops when heated. Flour corn is used to produce cornflour whilst pod corn is a mutant form that is unusual in that each kernel is wrapped in a leaf.

Then we have sweet corn. It is the form of maize that is extra sweet and is grown for human consumption when picked before it desiccates. Indeed if it starts to dry the sugars start to convert to starch and it is no longer as sweet.

The sweetness in sweetcorn is due to a recessive gene (one of three) that confers sweetness. It’s important to understand how this affects the sweetness. For the kernels to be sweet it needs two recessive genes to come together. That effectively means wee need the pollen from the same variety to pollinate the ovary of the plant. That, in turn means, that if it cross pollinates it is unlikely to be sweet, simply because the incoming pollen has an extremely low chance of bearing the recessive sweetness gene.

So don’t grow sweetcorn close to non sweetcorn varieties such as farmed maize that is shedding pollen.

What Colour Is Maize Seed?

Ask most people in the UK this and they’ll tell us it is yellow of various shades. But the reality is that it depends on the variety being grown.

For example in Benin, where maize is a staple food and widely grown, the predominant colour is white .

Maize aka corn colours
Maize aka corn colours

“A study there reveals that in Benin white, yellow, red and multicolor corns are current. We observe a predominance of white coloured corns (65.7%) followed by yellow (25.3%), multicolor (4.7%) and the red (4.3%),” notes a study by Hafiz Adéwalé Salami et al.

To Answer the Question: Is Sweetcorn the Same As Maize?

Both are the same species. They are however different varieties of the same species.

So you could liken the question to asking if cherry tomatoes are the same as beefsteak tomatoes. Again they are the same species but are different varieties.

Another example would be to compare salad potatoes with, say, King Edwards. Both are the same species but are different varieties.

For me that means the answer is YES.

Quick “Corn” Facts

Sweet corn is a single variety of maize (commonly known as corn in the U.S.). Native Americans cultivated five primary types of corn, with an additional one known as pod corn. These types include:

  • Dent corn: Typically grown for animal feed but also used for cornmeal.
  • Flint corn.
  • Sweet corn: Consumed before physiological maturity and characterized by wrinkled seeds in mature form.
  • Flour corn: Less common in the U.S. but used for making tortillas, among other things.
  • Popcorn.

Native Americans also cultivated various coloured corn varieties, such as yellow, white, red, and blue. Moreover, all five main types of corn could be found in a range of colors. Yellow corn gained popularity when farmers discovered its higher carotene content benefited pigs.

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2 thoughts on “Is Maize The Same As Sweetcorn?

  1. Lesley Molyneux says:

    Interesting thanks. Is “baby corn” that we typically find in stir fries just smaller sweetcorn or is it a specific variety?

    1. Stefan Drew says:

      It’s a specific variety. The one most often grown in the U.K. is minipops.

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