Corn is all around us, in products as varied as antibiotics, vitamins, baby foods, condensed milk, peanut butter, glue, chewing gum, paper and, of course, ethanol.
Corn is the number one field crop raised in the United States. It leads all other crops in value, and the volume of production is more than double that of any other crop.
Ethanol production creates valuable co-products, adding even more value to the process. Distillers dried grains (DDGs) that result from the dry milling process are sold as high-quality feed ingredients. Wet milling co-products such as corn bran, corn gluten feed, corn gluten meal, corn germ meal and condensed fermented corn extractives are all used as livestock and poultry feed.
Every bushel of corn made into ethanol yields 18 pounds of distillers dried grains (DDGs), which are used as livestock and poultry feed. Nearly 3.8 million tons of DDGs are created in domestic dry grind ethanol production.
There are many different kinds of corn. For example:
- Dent corn (Zea mays indentata) is also called field corn. It is a variety with kernels that contain both hard and soft starch and become indented at maturity.
- Flint corn (Zea mays indurate) is a variety that has hard, horny, rounded or short and flat kernels with the soft and starchy endosperm completely enclosed by a hard outer layer. It is similar to dent and is used for the same purposes. Most of it is grown in South America.
- Waxy corn is a corn variety with grains that have a waxy appearance when cut, and that contain only branched-chain starch. It is grown to make special starches for thickening foods.
- Sweet or "green" corn is eaten fresh, canned, or frozen. It is a type of corn that is grown in many horticultural varieties. It is considered a distinct species (Zea saccharata or Zea rugosa), a subspecies (Zea mays rugosa) or a specific mutation of dent corn. It is distinguished by kernels that contain a high percentage of sugar in the milk stage, when they are suitable for table use.
- Popcorn (Zea mays everta) has small ears and small pointed or rounded kernels with very hard corneous endosperm. When the kernels are exposed to dry heat, they are popped by the expulsion of the contained moisture, and form a white starchy mass many times the size of the original kernel.
- Indian corn (Zea mays) has white, red, purple, brown, or multicolored kernels.
- Flour corn (Zea mays amylacea), also called "soft" corn, has kernels shaped like those of flint corn and composed almost entirely of soft starch. Small amounts of blue flour corn are grown in the United States to make tortillas, chips, and baked goods. In South America it is grown in various colors to make food and beer.
There are several parts of a kernel of corn:
- The endosperm is about 82 percent of the kernel's dry weight and is the source of energy and protein (starch) for the germinating seed. There are two types of endosperm, soft and hard. In the hard endosperm, starch is packed tightly together; in the soft endosperm, the starch is loose. When corn dries in the field before harvest, the moisture loss causes the soft endosperm to collapse and form a dent in the top of the kernel.
- The pericarp, also called the hull, is the outer covering of the kernel that protects it from deterioration. It is water- and water vapor-resistant and is undesirable to insects and micro-organisms.
- The germ is the only living part of the corn kernel. It contains the essential genetic information, enzymes, vitamins and minerals for the kernel to grow into a corn plant. About 25% of the germ is corn oil. Corn oil is the most valuable part of the corn kernel because of its amount of linoleic acid (polyunsaturated fat) and its bland taste.
- The tip cap is the only area of the kernel not covered by the pericarp. It was the attachment point of the kernel to the cob. It is the major entry path into the kernel.
A pound of corn consists of approximately 1,300 kernels.
100 bushels of corn produces approximately 7,280,000 kernels.
An ear of corn averages 800 kernels in 16 rows.
Corn is produced on every continent of the world, with the exception of Antarctica.
North Dakota farmers produce approximately 130 million bushels of corn each year.