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Jul 5, 2012 09:36 PM

Corn on the Cob vs. Nixtamalization

Was fascinated to learn (or probably re-learn since I have forgotten much as I suffer through the brain decay of raising children) that the "Nixtamal" process (my term) not only make corn more easy to work and to digest but also increase the nutrients available. In fact vitamin deficiencies and disease spread in Europe as they had the corn but not the process.

So my question is- does fresh cooked corn on the cob remain nutritionally challenged or is it the drying process that creates the amino acid and protein bindings that make nixtamalization so critical?

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  1. corn on the cob does not need the nixtamalization, because the nutrients being obtained are different ones. Corn on the cob is (usually) sweetcorn, and sweetcorn doesnt have the ability to convert it's sugars into starches (or, at least to do it as well as other corns can) I honestly don't know if the niacin (that's the critical nutrient you need the nixtamalization to free up) in sweecorn is locked/free/or even present yet. Then again, I'm not sure if most cultures treated corn on the cob (which is rather perishable) as a viable staple food (i.e. I'm not sure if any culture used corn on the cob as thier primary carbohydrate source. Most corn eating cultures relied on dryable corn for something like that, which you can actually store.) Way back when, there were a lot of areas where you grew what were called "roasting ears", corn you could eat as corn on the cob when it was young and the rest would turn into a grindabe storable corn. But again, the corn on the cob would be a vegatable, to be eating fresh on the spot (actually, since the old corns started converting as soon as they were picked, you would likey set up the kettle as close to the corn patch as possible to minimize the time between harvest and cooking. Also if it was roasted, some nixtamalization may have occured as it was usually roasted in the fires ashes, and wood ashes used to be what you would use to do the job (Cal and Lye just work a heck of a lot faster)

    2 Replies
    1. re: jumpingmonk

      good info- a google search led me to this table in a book viewable on g.books:

      would appear that nixtamalized maize in a tortilla has significantly more bioavailable niacin than raw corn but steamed corn is a close 2nd. Interesting stuff. I used to love raw sweetcorn in my jicama / cilantro salad.. looks like steaming / grilling needs to happen first!

      1. re: e_bone

        I saute corn before cooling it and adding it to salads.

    2. My guess would be the nutrients in corn on the cob are less "available" than the nutrients in nixtamal because the outer coating of the kernels of corn on the cob haven't been removed. That being said, as jumpingmonk pointed out, the type of corn we eat as corn on the cob is different from the type of corn used to make nixtamal so that might make a difference in the overall type of nutrients available and how easy it is for our bodies to access them.

      I should point out though that drying isn't what makes nixtamal special but rather the process of cooking, soaking, rinsing and subsequently removing the outer coating of the corn. Nixtamal is made by boiling the corn in a mixture of water and slaked lime (cal) or other alkaline substance (sometimes ashes, etc.). After it boils it stis and steeps in the water/cal mixture. Through this process, the niacin in the corn becomes more available and the grains can absorb nutrients from the cal itself. Eventually, the outer coating of the corn becomes gelatinous, the cal/water mixture is drained and the corn is rinsed, removing the outer coating. After this, it is kept whole and used in pozole, ground and made into tortillas or tamales, or redried and ground into masa harina.

      1 Reply
      1. re: lapositivista

        I was reading a description of old Indian methods of making samp. One method was to crack the corn in a hollowed out log section, and then boiling it with some wood ash. The ash was described as a flavoring agent. Nutritionally it probably did the same as nixtamalization, but the result was a porridge or soup, not kernels to be eaten after further cooking.

        Nutritionally nixtamalization is significant if corn is a major ingredient in your diet. Sweet corn is an occasional vegetable, not a staple. We have plenty of other sources of niacin (including fortified corn and wheat flour), and balanced sources of amino acids.

        The OP certainly could get some culinary lime, and try to cook some sweet corn with it, and then report back on the changes. We don't need a nutritional analysis, but it would be nice to know what happens to the corn itself, it's taste, and the hull.