White or yellow?

When sweet corn hits the stalls at the local farm markets, we seek out those vendors that are selling yellow corn.  It has been a life long preference because to our palates it tastes better.  

Yes,” we say, “white corn is sweeter; but yellow has more flavor.

Our long held belief was challenged and changed this year.

I did some online research on this and came up with the fact that personal preference aside; there is little difference between the tastes of yellow or white corn. What matters is the type of corn as defined by the level of sweetness.

Starting back in the 19th century, seed companies and corn growers started applying scientific methods to breeding improved varieties of corn.  Sugary is the standard sweetness, Sugar Enhanced is sweeter; Supersweet is sweeter still and then comes Sweet Breed, which is a combination of Supersweet and Sugar Enhanced.

The sweeter varieties have a longer shelf life of a week or so from harvest. Increased sugar in the kernel takes longer to convert to starch, allowing the corn to travel to markets further from the field and still maintain a palatable level of sweetness and flavor. (Never the less, everyone agrees that nothing beats corn cooked and eaten as soon after picking as possible).

While there are marked and recognizable differences in taste between the Sugary, Sugar Enhanced, Supersweet or Sweet Breed of corn, there is reportedly no discernible difference in flavor between white, yellow or bi-color varieties of the same sweetness level.  Some credence may be given to corn grown in one location tasting better than the same variety grown elsewhere, but I haven’t seen any reliable documentation supporting this.  Regardless, I stand with those who say Jersey Sweet Corn at its peak is the best that can be had anytime, anywhere.

State pride aside, Ann and I opted to give the white/yellow debate a casual and impromptu taste test last month.  We picked up three ears of each color from a favored vendor at the Trenton Farmers Market.  Back at home, we shucked the ears and boiled them for five minutes.  Then we took turns tasting; Ann closed her eyes and I held an ear of white corn up for her to nibble on.  I repeated this with an ear of the yellow.  Then we reversed roles and she offered me tastes while I kept my eyes closed.

The result was we could not correctly identify the color of the corn we had eaten in the order we tasted it.

While far from scientific, it is a pretty good indicator that there is little taste difference between the colors of corn.  What I can say in favor of yellow corn is that it is nutritionally better for you as a source of vitamin A.  White corn has little to none.

White or yellow, the local corn season is winding down.  But before your local corn is gone completely, you owe it to yourself to try this recipe for Baked Buttered Corn from Michael Ruhlman’s blog. It’s simple and oh so delicious: corn cut from the cob, seasoned with salt and pepper, dotted with butter then baked. 

Just the perfect dish to help transition you from summer to fall.



2 Responses to “White or yellow?”

  1. dkp Says:

    um . . .FYI . . . SuperSweet corn was ‘invented’ at the University of Illinois groundbreaking Agriculture program, late in the 19th century. All of the Jersey (and all further SuperSweet varieties) come from the Illinois strain, having been merely planted elsewhere. The Illini varieties actually came from across the Mississippi, as you’ll see below . . .

    Because, other than Illinois, I have only lived in one other place where the fresh corn was so sweet that one need not cook it to enjoy it . . . and that would be the fecund, rolling hills of Iowa. Jersey corn? Best in the region, for sure . . . but it doesn’t really stand up when compared with the seeds of its Midwestern roots, so to speak . . . I’m just sayin’ . . .

  2. Jim Carlucci Says:

    Not arguing the origin of the SuperSweet variety.

    Have lived in Missouri…across the Mississippi and just beneath Iowa.

    Still stand by my NJ roots.

    But, local pride aside, the point is that it’s not the color but the sweetness variety that makes a difference.

    Oh…and try Ruhlman’s recipe. Regardless of where the corn comes from you won’t be disappointed.

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