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Jun 26, 2007 08:20 PM

White corn v. yellow corn

At Safeway in Mill Valley I asked the Produce Guy where the yellow corn was since the sign said White and Yellow Corn, 8/$2.00. He said white corn outsells yellow by 20 boxes to one box. I mentioned that since there was no yellow corn in sight, it wasn't surprising. He said he had some "in back," and indeed he came out w/one box of the yellow corn. Asked why I wanted the yellow, I told him that I hoped it wasn't as sickening sweet as the white, and he seemed surprised that I wouldn't want it as sweet as all get-out. After all that, I found the yellow corn to be almost, almost just as sweet as the white! Alas, where is the taste of old...

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  1. Try to find corn at a local farmer's market. The stuff at Safeway is mass produced corporate corn that is bred to travel well and look good on display in the store so you'll buy it. These mass produced corn cobs lose most of their natural corn flavor, so the company ups the sugar content and sweetness to fake out the eater into thinking it's good (same goes for most of the produce at big chains). Sugar, fat and salt make things taste better. But it sounds like you are savvy and want the real taste of corn. I applaud your post. Check out the local markets. We picked up some wonderful corn last week at the Belmont farmer's market, but I'm sure it's at other ones too.

    Also try Berkely Bowl. There are lots of other places the Hounds can recommend.

    8 Replies
    1. re: sgwood415

      Unfortunately, I've received the same answer at farmers markets (Serramonte, Alemany, Santa Cruz) when I've asked the same question the OP asked at Safeway. There's much more demand for that insipid supersweet white corn. I've had to special order yellow corn at the Serramonte farmers market. And the best yellow corn I had last year (I haven't had ANY good corn this year) was from the produce dept. at Nob Hill Market in Redwood Shores. And there I had to ask for it and they brought it out from the back -- the guy told me that I was lucky that they had some because they only get a small amount compared to the white corn. It was excellent quality yellow corn, though -- I'll be going back to Nob Hill this year when I want corn.

      1. re: Nancy Berry

        also it might be still early for corn..two sat. ago at the alemany farmers market all the corn was tiny, very small so i passed.

        1. re: Lori SF

          Knee-high by the Fourth of July, to quote an old rule of thumb. If you're getting fresh corn anywhere north of say Texas, Florida, or California, well, that's where it's coming from and it's probably not local corn.

          1. re: Loren3

            Some local corn was ready at least two weeks ago on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Available at farm stands and farmers' markets. Other varieties are a little slower this year, but we're finally getting some heat and rain. We always have plenty of local corn by Independence Day.
            I bought Silver Lightening that was good if a little sweet for my taste, but nobody at my table complained.

            1. re: Loren3

              The knee high by Fourth of July rule of thumb was at least obsolescent in the central and southern Corn Belt 50 years ago and is ridiculously out of date today. Earlier planting of more cold-tolerant and faster growing hybrid dent corn (the predominant type of field corn) make chest high to tasseling more reasonable goals by Fourth of July. I don't know how long this link will work, but look at for a current report.

              In a normal year we can have sweet corn by early July in northern Illinois using early su or se hybrids with good cold tolerance. These hybrids have fairly short plants even by sweet corn standards and produce smaller ears than midseason varieties. Supersweet (sh) hybrid seeds just rot in cold soil and so won't be along until a bit later.

        2. re: sgwood415

          Darlings, when I was a kiddie we used to buy corn at Webb's Ranch in Palo Alto starting on July 4 every year -- they didn't have it earlier. They grow it right there, still do, though I've no idea what kind they grow. Once my mom was picking through the corn and another lady jumped when she found a worm, and my mom said, "Much better to have a worm than pesticide, don't you think?" But it's not organic. In fact, it grows right next to the highway. They're at the turnoff for 280 on Alpine Road.

            1. re: sgwood415

              Ha... you are full of it. Sugar is the "corn taste"... all corn is produced the same basic way... no such thing as "mass produced"... A stalk is a stalk is a stalk... yellow corn has less sugar content and less taste or flavor and is generally grown to maturity for feed corn or seed corn.... white corn (very sweet) it harvested before maturity to produce sweet tender kernels, it is the best for human consumption! A grower of all domestic vegstables, root and tree fruits etc for over 60 years. The crap they sell at Safeway, Frys, etc... is garbage and is not fit for hogs much less humans.

            2. This is the sad state of corn in America. Everyone wants it sweet, sweet, sweet and with no corn flavor. Try farmer's markets and really talk to the farmers that are growing corn to understand the variety they are growing. At the Berkeley farmer's market I've found that Riverdog's corn is pretty corny tasting and not cloyingly sweet.
              Good luck.

              1. Most farmers grow only the icky-sweet, grassy-tasting se and sh2 hybrids. Yellow has no more flavor than white.

                The only farmer I found who grew some su hybrids was Firme, who is no longer coming to the markets. Haven't seen non-hybrid heirlooms in years.

                We talked about this in detail last year:


                4 Replies
                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  I think one issue, besides preferrence, might be that it's hard to grow organic corn that is acceptable to consumers at organic produce prices. Most organic corn has bugs/worms in a significant portion of the ears. I would hazard that many of the newer hybrids are more pest resistant, and therefore more appealing to organic farmers. It doesn't matter how good your corn tastes if people won't buy it because it's both wormy and expensive.

                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                    I have no problem at all finding organic corn, and the vendors at the farmers market seem to have no problem selling it. My problem is that it's all sh2 hybrids, which taste awful to me.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      I thought that's what I said: that because organic corn is hard to grow, most organic corn is modern hybrids.

                    2. re: Ruth Lafler

                      Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) can be used by organic growers and works pretty well on corn ear worms, particularly when combined with some vegetable oil, and sprayed on the silks. There may be a little damage in the outer silks before the baby ear worms' digestive tracts turn to mush. Bt is also used to control cabbage moth larva, the most common worm found in broccoli and cabbage.

                  2. There's also the fact that the corn of our childhood (if we're 40ish or more) started going starchy the instant it was picked, which is why the true fanatics would put their water on to boil before going out to the garden to pick the corn - and yes, I've done that! The sweeter varieties were bred to resist that sugar-to-starch process long enough to give market shoppers that same treat, but that trend appears to have gotten out of hand. I have to say that most of the corn I had as a kid was at least a day away from being picked, usually more, and I never had a problem with starchiness. I kinda like it chewy.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Will Owen

                      Quite true. Outside of homegrown, the best corn I've had was picked the morning I bought it and still cool and damp.

                      Some home gardeners still prefer heirloom corn: Burpee sells Bantam and Country Gentleman, and specialty seed companies such as Local Harvest sell more obscure varieties. They also sell formerly popular su varieties, such as Silver Queen.

                    2. Well, the dominance of white corn over yellow is a return to tradition - yellow sweet corn is something that happened after white sweet corn - in the early 1900s. The color of the corn has no necessary relation to how sweet it is, btw; it has more to do with liminal memories (real or imagined) of childhood. Here in eastern Massachusetts, that assures a dominance of bi-color varieties, with white taking second place and yellow a distant (if even present) third.

                      Sweeter varieties of corn mean less corn is thrown away by the farmers and vendors; there is little incentive for them to carry much else. I prefer the sugar-enhanced to the supersweet varieties - it's a nicer balance.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Karl S

                        I don't think tradition or childhood memories have anything to do with it.

                        The early supersweet hybrids were white, so people who liked them got the idea that they were preferable to yellow.

                        If you plant yellow next to white they cross-pollinate, so farmers tend to go all-white.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          The earliest supersweet hybrids developed at the University of Illinois were yellow. I have grown both Iochief and Golden Cross Bantam, and they are quite yellow. Iochief is a very good su hybrid from the 1950s that is still available.

                          From "Despite a lack of support for his ideas, Laughnan began a program to convert a few of the most popular sweet corn inbreds to sh2. In 1961, he released through Illinois Foundation Seeds Inc. (IFSI) the supersweet versions of "Golden Cross Bantam" and "Iochief," which became known as "Illini Chief."

                          Since seed of "Illini Chief" was difficult to produce, IFSI developed a three-way hybrid named "Illini Xtra Sweet," becoming the first company to sell supersweet corn. The company began to develop markets for the new product in the United States and Japan. For the next 20 years, IFSI and Crookham Co., a family-owned, Idaho-based seed company involved in seed production of "Illini Xtra Sweet," were the only commercial companies with serious supersweet breeding programs. During this time, professors at universities in Florida, Wisconsin and Hawaii also were developing supersweet hybrids."