How to Get the Best Sweet Summer Corn

How-To, In Season, Summer
on June 28, 2013

If you think the two kinds of corn are the white kind and the yellow kind, you’re sadly misinformed. There are two kinds, but they’re the eating kind and the other kind.

The other kind is really many other kinds, and they do everything from fueling cars (as ethanol) to sweetening processed foods (as high-fructose corn syrup) to getting Uncle Horace to do his Liberace impression (as bourbon).

What you find at markets and farm stands is the eating kind, which has a genetic variation that makes it sweet. That variation, though, has several variations of its own. What’s called “normal sugary” is the kind of corn your grandmother waxes nostalgic about. Its flavor is sweet and corny, its texture is creamy, and it makes for an eating experience unequalled in the vegetable world. Unfortunately, it’s not well adapted to the global economy; its sugar starts turning to starch the instant it’s picked.

Enter the corn scientists (now there’s a job), with “supersweet” and “sugary enhanced” corn. Both are sweeter than the old-school kind and convert sugar to starch more slowly. The downside is that the kernels are tougher and the flavor is less corny. It’s pretty good corn, but not the stuff that nostalgia is made of.

Look for Grandma’s corn at farm stands and produce markets. It goes by many names: Silver Queen or Jubilee or Sundance. If it’s got “crisp” or “sweet” in the name, it’s likely to be the newfangled kind. To be sure, ask the farmer. Buy corn that’s just been picked and hasn’t been sitting in the sun (heat speeds the sugar-to-starch conversion). Once you get it, refrigerate it ASAP. Steam it for a few minutes, and now you’ve got something to tell your grandchildren about.

—Tamar Haspel, a food writer in Marstons Mills, Mass.

Found in: How-To, In Season, Summer