Be thankful for corn

Turkey day is finally here. What food will we be talking about today? Surprise- it’s not turkey. This is a plant science blog. I’ve gone this long without talking about animals*, and I don’t plan on starting now. So what’s the most important plant contributing to your Thanksgiving dinner? It’s corn of course!

Indian corn

Indian corn (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In fact, a successful corn harvest by the Pilgrims in their first year was the main reason for having the first Thanksgiving feast. This success was largely due to help provided by Native Americans. It seems that corn is just as important to our modern Thanksgiving feasts. You are probably enjoying homemade cornbread stuffing/dressing**, creamed corn, and corn casserole. Plus, corn was probably the main grain ingredient in the feed your turkey ate during its short life before Thanksgiving. Also, corn products like corn syrup and other sweeteners are key ingredients in your desserts. Enjoy these corny facts on turkey day.

We may call it corn today, but it is traditionally called ‘maize’ from the Spanish form of the indigenous name maiz. The Latin genus species nomenclature for corn is Zea mays.

Maize diagram

Maize diagram (Photo credit: IITA Image Library)

You won’t find corn growing wild anywhere (maybe only from accidental germination of stray kernels). It has long been domesticated as an agricultural plant from the wild relative teosinte.

English: Teosinte, Teocinte or Teocintle from ...

English: Teosinte, Teocinte or Teocintle from the Etnobotanical museum, Oaxaca, México. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Typical corn plants are 8 feet tall.

The average ear of corn contains about 800 kernels in 16 rows.

The maize genome has been completely sequenced. It has approximately 2.3 gigabases and 32,000 genes.

Approximately 80 million acres of corn is planted every year in the U.S worth more than $60 billion.

Corn growing, Minnesota, USA

Corn growing, Minnesota, USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s U.S. corn yields are more than 120 bushels per acre.

The U.S. is the world’s largest producer of corn accounting for more than 32% of the world’s crop.

The state with the highest corn production: Iowa

This makes the U.S. the largest exporter of corn, amounting to 40 – 60% of the world’s supply, but this is only a small percentage of total U.S production.

Animal feed is the main corn product accounting for 38% of the U.S. corn crop. Surprised? It takes 6 pounds of corn to produce 1 pound of beef and 3.5 pounds of corn to make 1 pound of pork. So yeah, you do the math.

It’s not all about the animals though. American humans consume about 25 pounds of corn annually.

Corn (29% of the annual crop) is also used to make the ethanol that is added to our gasoline fuel as well as in other non-food household products like paints, crayons, fireworks, shoe polish and drywall.

88% percent of the corn grown in the U.S. is GMO with either insect-resistant, herbicide-resistant traits or both (stacked).

Check out more corny facts here.


*OK, those of you devoted followers with an attention to detail know that statement isn’t entirely true because of this and this, but those were at least photosynthetic or trying to be.

**Another highly processed guilty pleasure of mine is boxed StoveTop stuffing. Please don’t judge, and don’t worry there is always a homemade cornbread stuffing version as well. And while we’re on the subject, I thoroughly agree with Alton Brown in thinking that stuffing is somewhat of an abomination. It weirds me out a little because of cross-contamination issues, but then again I enjoy things like Turducken and lots of pork combinations. Nevertheless, I am perfectly happy being a hypocrite on this. So technically speaking, dressing, which is cooked separate from the bird, is what I prefer on Thanksgiving.



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