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Sep 5, 2012 01:12 PM

Cloyingly Sweet Corn

This is something that's been building over the past decade, and finally taken over. I'm talking about cloyingly sweet corn. Corn that's way too sweet, and has very little fresh corn flavor. It gets by on its impressive, over-the-top, untoothsome sweetness.

I'm finding this is true of corn from major wholesalers as well as from small farms. So my question to any produce gurus out there is: is this a varietal thing? It'd make sense to select for sweetness, since that's what customers like (and I did, too, until it went so over the top). Or is it a climate thing, i.e. climate change in the northeast has resulted in increasingly sweeter corn?

I'm thinking it's got to be the latter; there simply hasn't been enough time for everyone to switch over, en masse, to a new variety. But then, why, then, is it not only overly sweet, but also weak-flavored? I find myself struggling to remember what corn on the cob used to taste like (that vaguely sulfurous/milky quality).

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    1. re: Melanie Wong

      Thanks, Melanie. Depressing, but helpful, to learn that it's widespread and it ain't going to get better.

      I do hear rumors that they found a way to breed actual tomato flavor back into tomatos, so....high hopes.....

      1. re: Jim Leff

        Not about corn, but in the book "The Perfect Fruit: Good Breeding, Bad Seeds, and the Hunt for the Elusive Pluot" by Chip Brantley, he talks about how with fruit breeding, breeders focus heavily on maximizing sugar content. I wouldn't be surprised if corn and other vegetables are similar.

    2. It is my understanding that sweet corn has been bred to remain sweet even after it has been shipped or stored. Regular sweet corn tends to go to starch quickly and loses taste. I suppose that if the corn is inherently sweeter than older varieties, it stays sweeter. What I've noticed about the corn I've eaten in the PNW is the starchy nature of fresh corn. The second batch was both starchy and sweet.

      The corn we got in the Midwest, was usually sweet if eaten within a day of purchase. It could be boiled for only a few minutes before eating and was not so chewy.

      I'm not fond of overly sweet corn either. .

      1 Reply
      1. re: sueatmo

        Good point, suetmo. At the same time I've observed this progression, there's also been a progression of corn staying sweet for suspiciously long periods in my fridge. So it's varietal. Hmph.

      2. Seed corn in the US has been tinkered with for decades, first by the USDA to develop varieties resistant to corn smut, which ironically is now the scarce huitlacoche delicacy. Seed companies developed sweet corn to satisfy American tastes, and Americans like it. It has thinner walls and higher water content, and is less suitable for tortilla making and masa products.

        Try a variation of Robert Lauriston's cilantro rice recipe, but with corn. Cut raw kernels off the cob and sautee with diced jalapeno until lightly carmelized, remove from heat, fold in chopped cilantro and lime juice, serve. It neutralizes a bit of the sweet.

        1. I miss the corn of my youth: the taste of corn with a bit of sweetness. It seems very hard to find corn that tastes like corn in my neck of the woods.

          Selection of varietals is at least a part of it; I don't know about climate change. Around here people clamor for the supersweet varieties. Here is a bit of background (in a somewhat skewed article--really a press release by a university to laud its researchers)

          I'm an alum of Illinois. Maybe I'll send them a note that I'll start making contributions when they start putting corn taste back in corn.

          1. The corn breeders have taken it too far and too sweet. I can't say it's the same today but 20 years in upstate Wisconsin I had the best corn a few times. It was old varieties but grown to perfection in good soils. Go to the rural Midwest and you just might find some of this superior corn. The ears were huge so I think they take more days to grow and farmers want faster (more profitable) growing varieties. Just a theory