Humans produce more maize than any other grain, which is the foundation of many staple diets worldwide. Global production of maize now stands at more than a billion metric tons per year, far outstripping wheat and rice.
It’s a popular staple because of its kilojoule count: equal to rice, and higher than any other grain. Maize’s versatility also helps it can be eaten on the cob, as loose kernels, or ground into meal and cornflour.
Here are six more fun facts about maize:
1. It Started Really Small
Maize was domesticated in Central America around 9,000 years ago. All modern maize species belong to a larger family of grasses known as teosinte. Most teosinte species produce several seed-heads per plant; however, they are tiny. It’s thought that the earliest maize had a single cob, only 2.5cm long. Thousands of years of domestication were required to produce the maize we know today, yielding several large cobs per plant.
2. It’s One Of ‘The 3 Sisters’
As maize spread throughout Central America and into North and South America, many farming communities adopted “The Three Sisters” as their staples: maize, beans and squash. All three come in a variety of species, and they complement each other when grown together. Corn provides support for bean vines, while the bean roots fix nitrogen in the soil. This helps nourish the other two plants, while the squashes create shady ground cover. This cuts down on competing weeds, while reducing evaporation to keep the soil moist; another vital requirement for healthy maize growth. This system still works for many home gardeners around the world today.
3. It Doesn’t Transubstantiate
When Spanish conquistadors first brought maize back to Europe, the Catholic Church ruled that maize flour could not be used in place of wheat flour in communion wafers. This is because, according to Church dogma, only wheat can be turned into the actual flesh of Jesus during the consecration of the eucharist, in the process known as transubstantiation.
4. It Comes In Many Colours
Apart from popcorn, which is a great snack to munch on when watching movies or playing real money Bingo, sweetcorn and flour corn, maize comes in several other varieties, including colourful strains of flint maize. Purple corn is self-explanatory, but blue corn comes in many hues, from almost black, dark blue and blue-grey, to magenta and dark red. Some yield useful dyes as a result.
5. People Don’t Eat That Much
Almost 70% of all maize grown globally is used as animal feed; only 15% goes directly to human consumption. And in developed countries, only 5% is eaten as corn kernels or maize meal: the other 10% is processed into corn starch, corn syrup and similar food additives. Industrial use makes up about 16%, but as demand for biofuels like ethanol made from maize grows, that percentage may increase.
6. Some Folk May Be Allergic
Plant LTPs are a kind of protein that have been linked to allergic reactions, ranging from rashes and swelling to vomiting, asthma or even anaphylaxis. There are LTPs in maize; however, the area is poorly studied, and a definite maize allergy has yet to be identified.