Edible Plants from the Americas

The essential cereal – corn

CORN (Zea mays L.)

And so the viceroy Don Francisco de Toledo said, that two things had Peru of substance and richness, which were the corn and the cattle. And he was right because both things are worth a thousand.

José Acosta (1590) - ‘Historia natural y moral de las Indias’

Corn is an annual grass of the genus Zea which includes seven species native to Mexico and Central America. It was domesticated in Mexico over 10,000 years ago - by the time of the arrival of the Europeans, more than 300 varieties were grown in the Americas. Corn was introduced into Europe by the Spanish in the 16th century and is currently the cereal with the highest production worldwide.

Corn is a staple food in many parts of the world, consumed fresh or dried as flakes or flours. Oil can be extracted from the seed and some varieties are used to make a beverage known as chicha. Other popular uses are in cornflakes, popcorn, polenta or corn-starch. It is also a very common ingredient in animal feed and has many industrial uses such as the manufacture of biodegradable plastics or biofuel. Corn syrup is a sweetener obtained from corn starch, widely used as a less costly alternative to sugar in processed foods and beverages.