Sweet corn praised for its summer taste, diversity
HERSHEY, Pa. — “Sweet corn tastes like summer,” exclaimed Blake Myers to his audience at the recent Mid-Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Convention.
Myers, Siegers Seed Company’s Northeast Vegetable Seed consultant, assured growers that sweet corn is improving, “Today’s varieties look better, taste better, and have longer shelf lives than varieties of the past,”
Myers added, “Few foods are as diverse.”
Pointing out the multitude of ways to prepare sweet corn, including simply adding salt, pepper and butter, or just serving it plain, he suggested, “Pair it with seafood, or a steak, a humble hotdog, or vegan.”
Although color by itself does not actually change the flavor of sweet corn, bicolor dominates with nearly 80 percent of sales in the Eastern markets.
White and yellow varieties account for about 10 percent each.
He suggested fresh-appearing soft or bright hues for yellows, and bright and pure white for the whites. Myers said, “Bicolor may owe its success by being the ‘universal color’ or simply because of the sparkle caused by the contrast.”
For any variety, husks should be as green as possible — pale husks look stressed to the consumer. While some reddish husks have been popular, Myers said that neither breeders nor retailers should regard red husks as appealing to consumers.
Those husks can look dry and old or diseased under artificial lighting.
“Quality,” Myers noted, “is a combination of texture, sweetness and flavor.”
When biting an ear, texture is the first sensation. The pericarp can be tough, perhaps sticky, or crisp, tender or maybe mushy.
“Do kernels peel off the cob, or stick between teeth, and what is the texture of the endosperm?” Myers asked.
Sugars can be extremely sweet and sharp like the simple sugars in the supersweet varieties. Some customers enjoy those sugars; others prefer the creaminess and the muted sweetness of the polysaccharides in the synergistic varieties. Myers reported, “It’s a preference and neither is wrong but market share and the breeding support the augmented supersweets.”
“After the sugars calm down on your palate, you begin to sense the flavor.” Myers said. Some varieties have a clear or clean flavor, some are savory, and still others have a metallic or bitter aftertaste. But when the sugars fade, Myers asked, “Is the flavor pleasing?”
The second time you bite into the ear, you sense texture. What’s left in your mouth, did the pericarp vanish, he asked, or “Do you feel like a cow chewing her cud?”
Myers noted that although variety determines much of the quality, growers can take steps to assure high quality.
Within the isolation groups, carefully pick your genotype first. He advised not constantly switching between the groups because consumers often compare varieties and ultimately become critical of some of the choices. He advised, “Put your customer preferences in front of your own biases.”
Next, choose the best varieties within each genotype. Ask a trusted grower or seedsman or rely on your own experience. Plus, select by your geographic location and maturity slot.
Reduce stress. Myers said, “The corn plant is a sugar producing reproductive factory. Be aware of stresses that inhibit proper root development which is necessary for proper uptake of essential elements.” In addition, the diseases that suppress the movement of sugars such as the bacterial ones or reduce the photosynthesis area, such as rusts and blights, must be watched.
Finally, harvest at the correct time and if possible, cool the ears. Both measures slow the conversion of sugars to starch. Get the core temperature down to a few degrees above freezing to enhance the shelf life.
Myers said that varieties can vary in maturity by as much as two weeks. However, he noted similarity in the time it take to mature from mid-silk (half silk) until peak harvest quality. Tracking the days before harvest: the plant bolts by going through rapid growth, and shooting up the tassel in 30 days; the first pollen begins to shed in 22 days; half the plants begin showing silk on their uppermost ears in 21 days. Myers noted that the mid-silk stage is the easiest to read of the maturity predictions. The pollen continues to shed until about 18 days before harvest, at which time the anthers become dry.
The more subjective events include: around 14 days before harvest, the silks become noticeably dry; the ear begins to show kernel blisters at 10 days before harvest; color begins to develop in yellow and bicolor varieties seven days before harvest.
The ability to hold quality is largely dependent on the genetics of the variety and its isolation type. However, environmental conditions and stress also affect it, Myers noted.
Growers may wish to contact sweet corn company representatives and local extension educators for noteworthy varieties from 2019 trials.