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Sweet Corn Basics

Corn sweet bicolor1

Corn sweet bicolorHow do you like your corn? The answer probably says a lot about where you are from.

  • If you prefer mixed yellow and white kernels in each ear, you are probably from New England. Your favorite varieties are likely ‘Bi-Colored’ or ‘Butter and Sugar.’
  • If you prefer all white kernels in each ear, you are probably from the Mid-Atlantic states. The variety ‘Silver Queen’ could be your favorite.
  • If you prefer all yellow kernels in each ear, you are probably from the Midwest. ‘Golden’ is undoubtedly your favorite variety.
  • If you prefer yellow, super sweet kernels, you are probably from the Southeast. The varieties you crave are probably ‘Sweetie’ or ‘Kandy Korn.’

How do you like your corn? Well, wherever you are from the answer should always be “Fresh!”

Corn season. In the east and northeast, local corn will be at the farm market from July to September. In the Midwest fresh corn will be at the market from August to October, and in California from May to October with the peak of the season from June to mid-August. (Now, don’t despair: fresh, local corn is at the farm market in Florida from October to June with the peak season from April to June.)

Selection. Here’s what to look for when picking corn: “Picked Today!” The fresher the corn you can get the better the taste. That’s because the sugar in the kernels starts converting to starch as soon as the corn is picked.

If you buy your corn down on the farm, the grower may have a pot of boiling water at the ready. In fact, some farmers hold corn parties this time of year. Guests pick their own corn and run, not walk, from the field to the kitchen.

When picking corn in the husk, look for fresh bright green husks that fit snuggly. The stem end should not be dry or discolored. The silks should be golden and dry, not soggy. Pull back the husk slightly and look for full, plump rows all the way to the tip of the ear. Kernels that are flattened are over-matured and will taste starchy.

Quick cook corn. For tasty corn on the cob, throw the ears into boiling water for one minute (but certainly not more than five minutes) then serve with spice- or herb-flavored butter or olive oil.

If you are barbecuing, remove the husks, spread softened butter on the kernels, and wrap the ears in aluminum foil. Put them over the hot coals along with your steaks or hamburgers and roast them on each side for 10 to 15 minutes.

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.


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  1. Corn: ‘maize’ (MA-iz) in Spanish, maize (may-z) in southern US can mean other things. In Nahuatl there is reference to ‘teozintle’ which is considered the great-grandfather of all corn. Since it is generally considered to be of mezo-american origin, how did it get to New England in time to be incorporated into something the Pilgrims ran into? Needless to say ‘tomate’ or tomatl (or the non-tomato green ‘jitomate’) has to have corn! and squash flowers!

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