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Are There Different Types of Corn?

A common question we get asked is if there are different types of corn growing in Ontario? Or if all corn is the same but harvested at different times of the year based on what they are used for. There are actually four different types of corn we grow in Ontario. Here we are going to break down the different types of corn so that you can be a corn expert!

You may be driving around in rural Ontario and see a corn field. You might assume it’s the same corn you eat when you go to a grocery store or farmers market and buy it on the cob. Or maybe you think it’s the same kind of corn you eat at the movie theater covered in butter. You are not alone in this thought. We get asked all the time about the different types of corn!

This was a question we got asked online! Here’s a list of our FAQs! To ask your own, click here.

The history of corn in Ontario

The Huron settled initially in the land of the Great Great Lakes, concentrated between Lake Simcoe and Georgian Bay they were the most successful farmers in what is now Canada. They began to farm around 800 AD, in which they farmed corn. Corn, which doesn’t grow in the wild, needs to be cultivated to produce a crop. By the time Europeans arrived, Amerindian farmers had developed 150 varieties of corn, which grew from southern Chile to Ontario. An efficient, ubiquitous crop, it was believed that corn possessed human qualities, even weeping when it failed to grow (CBC). The corn grown by these successful farmers were round, yellow or white, flint kernels, generally with only eight or ten kernel rows on long, thin cobs (T. Daynard).

The science of it all

Corn, like all other living things, are given a genus name and a species name. Corn is part of the genus called Zea and the species mays. From there, we have something called varieties or subspecies. This is common across many plants. Such as an apple, they are all apples, but there are varieties like Red Delicious or Gala. This is the same as corn. This happens from cross breeding, causing a new subspecies!

There are four different varieties of corn we grow in Ontario. Here we are going to break down the different types of corn so that you can be a corn expert!

Dent/Grain Corn

This is the most common type of corn you will see. Driving around in the country, 90% of the corn fields you will see will be growing this type of corn. It has many different names, it can go by cow corn, field corn, grain corn or its technical name: dent corn. It’s called dent corn because the kernels actually have an indent in the top once its dried! Its harvested in the late fall!

This is the type of corn that is used to feed livestock, make ethanol for gasoline, gets distilled into alcohol and is a key ingredient in many household products! Its in things like diapers, gummy worms, toothpaste, deodorant, cooking oil and many other things!

To learn more about corn: check here.

Sweet Corn

When you are in the grocery store and see a cob of corn in the summer, that’s called sweet corn, or corn on the cob. This is a vegetable crop and is harvested mid-summer when the corn is moist and sugary – delicious for eating. This type of corn represents about 5% of all corn grown in the province and is the type that you buy in farmers markets or at roadside stands. This corn is in season in Ontairo from July – October.

When you are driving along, you can tell it’s a sweet corn field because they are usually grown around other produce, like tomatoes or squash, at a produce farm. This type of corn also has larger tassels (the “hair” that sticks out the top) and is shorter than dent/grain corn.

This is a picture of the tassel on sweet corn, from Snyder’s Sweet Corn in Caledonia, Ontario.

Popcorn

This is a variety of corn that is harvested towards mid fall – it makes a great movie snack. This type of corn represents only about 1% of all corn grown in the province and is produced more in the southwest area of the province. This type of corn is distinguishable in the field because it does not grow as tall as dent corn! It is very rare to see though!

Why does only this kind pop? This type of corn has a very hard outer shell. When it is heated, all the moisture inside the kernel is trapped until it explodes and pops! Other corn, like dent corn and sweet corn have softer outer shells that moisture can travel in and out. No matter how hot you get it, it will not pop!

Ornamental Corn

This type of corn is also very rarely grown in Ontario. It is the corn that is multi coloured like red or purple. Its common use is for decoration in the fall. Also known as flint corn, calico corn or Indian corn. Popping corn is actually a special variety of this kind of corn. Not all varieties will pop though!

There are other types of corn but are not grown on a commercial scale and are not grown in Ontario. They are Pod corn and flour corn.

There’s no easy way to tell the difference between the corn types as you drive by the field, but if you guessed it was dent corn you’d be right at least 95 times out of 100.

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