Botanical name: Zea Mays
The Zea Mays of botanical nomenclature, our maize or grain, is called corn in the United States, Canada and Australia. In England and in the English-speaking world in general, the term "wheat" means cereals tout court, including corn. As for the wheat mentioned in the bible, scholars oscillate between a mixture of spelled and barley.
Origins and history
The history of maize in the West begins only in 1492, when the men of Columbus exported this plant with strange fruits from Cuba. Some argue that the grass returned to Spain aboard the famous caravels only with the second expedition of the Genoese navigator, but in Europe corn was considered for a long time a garden curiosity, before its secrets and food qualities were discovered. which made it spread to France, Italy, south-eastern Europe and northern Africa.
By 1575 it was known in western China, imported to the Indies and the Philippines.
Although the exact place of birth is uncertain, most historians agree that the transition from the wild and primitive form to the cultivated one took place in the Tehuacán Valley in Mexico.
The great variability of the maize plant has led to the selection of numerous widely adapted varieties that do not resemble each other. In the United States it has been the most important cultivation since ancient times, in 1880 the cultivated acres were 62 million, 95 in the early 1900s, even without the significant increases in yields that came only with the technological advances of 1940. Today, more than 40% of the world's maize is produced in the United States: the combination of favorable soils, climate and know-how management is unrepeatable in other places in the world.
Nutritional and beneficial properties of corn
Corn is considered an important component of food, however its nutritional properties are relatively limited, it contains few nutrients and the vitamins of the B and PP groups are not assimilable by humans. Indeed, when the western populations based their diet exclusively on the most common variety of corn, the yellow flour with which polenta is cooked, they encountered pellagra, due to the lack of these vitamins.
Nevertheless, corn is widely used both as a food and as an ingredient. The whole cobs can be boiled or grilled, the shelled grains can be seasoned for side dish , or "flaked", that is steamed, crushed, dried and transformed into corn flakes , ingredient for breakfast. Roasted beans of the Popcorn variety turn into the popular popped balls. It is one of the most ancient forms and, depending on the shape of the grains, it is classified into two types, pearl or rice.
Another very widespread variety is the Dolce, the result of a spontaneous mutation that occurred in prehistoric times and which, before the arrival of Europeans in North America, was cultivated by different Native American tribes: a variety named Papoon was cultivated by the Iroquois and subsequently, at the end of the 18th century, by the colonists. Today it is grown mainly for fresh consumption and has acquired a genetic heritage that favors the accumulation of sugars. The "baby corn" used in salads is basically the immature cereal. The oil is obtained from the germ, not very suitable for frying, it is used as a condiment and for in oil. The flour, obtained from varieties with suitable characteristics, is used for some types of bread and sweets and is the typical ingredient of polenta, starch is also extracted from the flour, used in various food preparations.
Use of corn in the kitchen
One of the many traditional recipes that use white corn flour (masa harina) allows you to prepare tortillas at home, typical of Latin American cuisine. The flour is mixed with water in adequate percentages, in order to obtain soft balls to be rolled out as wraps. These are browned in a pan for about five minutes per side.
White flour compared to yellow flour has the advantage of undergoing a nixtamalization process that makes vitamins of group B and group PP available for absorption. Tortillas can finally be filled with meat or vegetables.
The number of Indian, Mayan and Aztec legends concerning maize is extraordinarily vast and are linked to the myth of mother earth, fertility and ceremonials to celebrate the crops.