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Do You Know What Indian Corn is?

In the fall, a type of corn is often used for decorative purposes. The kernels of this corn can have various colors, including red, yellow, white, blue, purple,  and black. This is commonly called Indian corn or calico corn. A lot of people have seen it and you might have even seen it, but many people wonder what it is and how the farmers get it to grow with multi-colored kernels.

There are six primary kinds of corn; dent corn, flint corn, pod corn, flour corn, popcorn, and sweet corn. These each have different properties, mostly related to the thickness of the hull and the amount of starch that the kernels have when they are ripe.

Flint corn is a specific type of corn with a scientific name of Zea mays indurata. This is Indian corn. It is called flint corn because it is much lower in starch and water content than dent corn or sweet corn and has a thick hull. When the kernels dry out, they become quite hard, “as hard as flint”, though this isn’t quite accurate.

One of the traits that flint corn has is that the kernels are often of varying colors. Another trait is that they are extremely hardy and frost-resistant. This was one of the three kinds of corn that were grown by Native Americans, hence, Indian corn.

Indian corn also lends itself well for decoration because it is so hard. It isn’t likely to rot, nor does it easily sprout unless it is actually planted. Of course, it is also quite colorful and since corn is primarily a fall crop, Indian corn additionally has a symbolic significance of relating to the harvest; the fall season.

What all of this leads to is that the farmers don’t really do anything to Indian corn to get it to have kernels of different colors except to plant it and grow it. Indian corn is a distinctive cultivar or kind of corn. The colors are natural.

Incidentally, Indian corn is quite edible, though the starch content is very low.

  • Did you previously know what Indian corn, calico corn, or flint corn was?

    • Yes
    • No
    • I’ve heard of it but didn’t know what it was
  • Have you ever seen or grown Indian corn?

    • Yes
    • No
    • I sometimes decorate with Indian corn

What do you think?

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Written by Rex Trulove

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13 Comments

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  1. I know about Indian corn. I’ve seen it in the grocery store. I know people use it for decorative purposes. I always wondered if it was edible. You answered that question. Now even though I know it’s edible I probably still won’t eat it because it’s so pretty. LOL.

    • It is pretty, but I can’t help but chuckle when I see the prices people are paying for it, to make those decorations. It is no more expensive to grow than any other corn. Then again, an enterprising gardener here in town is selling bundles of dried corn stalks for $5 per bundle, just for decorations, and people are buying them. What a great way to get rid of garden debris and make money from it in the process!

  2. One of my favorite fall decorations is this Indian corn Rex. Sharing a little corn trivia:

    About 200 million bushels of corn are used to produce food products, about 400 million bushels go into producing corn sweeteners, 135 million bushels for beverages and alcohol, just under 2 billion bushels for feeding beef animals, 1.5 billion to feed chickens, and about a billion bushels for producing pork.

  3. It has always puzzled me why Americans grow so much maize. Can this be used to produce flour, and therefore bread, in the way that wheat can?

    We are used in the UK to growing what we call sweetcorn – I just don’t see how you can grind it!

    • We actually grow very little maize but do grow a lot of corn. I know that many countries call corn maize, but they are different, related plants.

      To answer your question, yes, corn can be dried and then ground into flour. Even sweet corn can be made into flour, it just needs to be dried first. Most of the corn eaten by people in the US is also sweet corn, though dent corn and flour corn is often made into either cornmeal or flour. The flour is often used to make tortillas, in fact. We have a bag of Mesa corn flour for exactly that purpose. We used to have a bag of potato flour, too, but I don’t know what happened to it.

      The majority of corn grown in the US, though, never makes it to the store to be eaten by people. Easily the majority of corn grown in the US is used to make ethanol to mix with petrol. Most of the rest is used for poultry and livestock feed. I’d doubt that Americans consume even 10% of the corn that is grown here, not counting exports. Of course, using it for ethanol production is wasteful in the extreme, especially since forest scrap can be used to make methanol, which can be used in the same way as ethanol, yet the thousands of tons of forest scrap that is generated each year is simply put into piles and burned. That is another topic, though. 🙂

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