Indian Corn

November 4, 2007 | 50 Comments

Corn or maize is the “mother grain” of the Americas. ‘Maize‘ derives from the Spanish form (maíz) of the Arawak Native American term for the plant. In North America and Australia, it’s known as ‘corn‘ which is a shortened form of ‘Indian corn‘.

Archaeological studies indicate that corn was first cultivated by the primitive peoples of Mesoamerica at least 5600 years ago.

In Corn – Its Origin, Evolution and Improvement, Paul Mangelsdorf explains how

This unique grain – it has no close counterpart elsewhere in the plant kingdom – exists only in association with man, and it survives only as a result of his intervention. Thus, the story of corn is in many ways a story about people.

Corn or maize was the primary starch for Native Americans for centuries. The kernels were boiled or fried, or ground to cornmeal after drying.

This mano and matete, traditionally used to grind corn, were excavated at the Mesa Verde site in Colorado. These implements are still used in many Native American households. This dried ear of corn, from the same site, is atleast 1500 years old.

Cornsilks had an important part to play in folk medicine. Cornhusks would become masks, sleeping mats, baskets, shoes or dolls. (Cornhusk dolls)

The cob inside was used to make darts, to burn as fuel, or made into ceremonial rattling sticks.

Native American History of Corn
Native American Corn Recipes
Traditional Navajo Foods

Popul Vuh, which is the treatise of Mayan legend and history, describes corn as the ‘spirit of life’. Humans, they believed, were created from sacred corn, by the deities. Those suffering from a severe illness were fed corn alone, in the belief that their health would be restored.

Guatemalan paintings of corn/maize

Similar mythology linking corn to creation reverberates through other Native American lore.

Navajo illustration depicting the corn harvest

Corn (maize) was one of the first imports from the Old World to the New. Today, corn supplies a fifth of the world’s food calories.

Archeological evidence from China and southern India, “both dated before the 15th century A.D., suggests that this domesticated crop was diffused by human action before the arrival of Columbus in the New World. The implications of this evidence are of great magnitude, since the presence of maize in Asia indicates that humans were able to migrate between both hemispheres; more than likely through trans-oceanic means of travel.”

Carvings in the Hoysala temples of Karnataka in south India (12th and 13th centuries, A.D.) depicting corn/maize

The ethnobotany of Corn

Indian corn comes in many varieties, and in a range of gorgeous colours. Completely yellow or white ears of corn (like orange carrots), are relatively recent creations.

Why do corn kernels have an array of colours?

Corn kernels have different colors because of genes that control color. Each kernel is an individual with its own set of genes, like an embryo. Kernels are siblings housed on the same ear and so naturally have many different colors…

One-color ears are unnatural products of human selection.

Livestock feeders prefer vitamin-rich yellow kernels, Southerners like white kernels, and Native Americans favor blue. Years of deliberate selection, careful pollination, and storing of seeds produced these single-color corn ears…

Some studies suggest corn pigments promote resistance to insects or fungi that invade an ear of corn…


Corn/maize is an annual that looks like tall grass.

The number of silks per ear of corn is equal to the number of kernels on the cob. Each silk is pollinated to produce one kernel of corn. (Corn pollination: the process)

Ears of corn in at an early stage

The little tails at the end of each kernel are where the silks were attached.

Native Americans use the term “Three Sisters” to describe their way of life, as well as the sustainable gardening techinique developed and practised over the centuries.

According to Iroquois legend, corn, beans, and squash are three inseparable sisters who only grow and thrive together. This tradition of interplanting corn, beans and squash in the same mounds, widespread among Native American farming societies, is a sophisticated, sustainable system that provided long-term soil fertility and a healthy diet to generations. Growing a Three Sisters garden is a wonderful way to feel more connected to the history of this land, regardless of our ancestry.


It’s a symbiotic relationship. The corn stalk supports the vines of the bean stalk. The huge squash leaves provide a ground cover to keep the soil moist for the corn and for itself. The beans provide the nitrogen to the soil that the corn needs for healthy growth.

Corn, beans and squash: an enduring trinity

Popcorn from Indian corn kernels

We discovered, in the process of making popcorn, that all the kernels, irrespective of colour, have white endosperm (the soft, starchy part inside). Hence, the popcorn ends up looking like regular popcorn.

Most Indian corn ears sold today are for decorative purposes. They even come with the warning, “Do not consume”.

What’s the truth?

Indian corn is not poisonous, is edible and is an extremely hard corn; it’s a variety called flint corn (Zea mays indurata).


Flint corn (usually of the yellow or white variety) is what is used for popcorn, and its flour is used to make tortillas.

The only Indian corn not safe for consumption is the type to which fragrance has been added for pot pourries and similar decorations.

How to make Microwave Popcorn

Put the corn kernels in a brown paper bag in the microwave. Or in a covered bowl. It took us between two and three minutes on HIGH. If you want to add spices or flavourings, spray them lightly with oil. We ate them neat, no salt, no spices. They were nutty and flavourful. We found that Indian corn kernels have a lower pop rate than yellow or white regular yellow or white flint corn kernels.

The dangers of eating raw popcorn :)

We plan to save some of the kernels and sow them next year.

Filed Under: , , , , , , , , , ,



  1. Nirmala says:

    Am the first to comment :horn: Excellent pics! Too gorgeous for just popcorns ;)

  2. Nags says:

    Accepted! Cuz I am a huge fan of your blog :D Yours is the first entry.. Thank you so much..

    Have never seen such unique colors on a corn kernel before! Looks lovely..

  3. Srivalli says:

    wow..thats a wonderful corn..but does the corn kernels come coloured?..great…and an entry so fast??…thanks for the tip on making pop corn in could’ve sent it for MEC: snacks…now are you going to get yourself make some side dish.. :hammer:

    ohh, thank you. this is a favourite side dish of ours.. just kidding. :D that’s the natural colour of the corn. – b.

  4. Srivalli says:

    Nirmala…I was the first to comment…but got distracted by the beauty :tongue:

  5. Rachna says:

    wow… ive never seen corn looking so awsome…. never knew so many things about my favourite makki (corn)…

    cornmeal is a huge staple in africa too… an african cant go through the day without having his cornmeal dumplings and corn paap (paleje)…

  6. Lakshmi says:

    Such a sexy corn ! :) Great Pics :dance:

  7. Raaga says:

    these pics are so beautiful and so was the write up… :bow:

  8. padmaja says:

    i remember my childhood days at beach eating these with a chilli and lemon rub on it, but never ever thought or imagined how fantastic they look until i saw your pictures bee!!
    totally bowled over!!!

  9. Happy Cook says:

    Beautiful pic, they look like different colours of pearls.

  10. Maninas says:

    The photos are absolutely breathtaking…. I’d put it next to a more neutral background, too, to make all its colours stand out. :)

  11. Asha says:

    I love Purple corn and Corn Tortillas made of those too. Very pretty to look at and delicious to eat! :)

  12. Jyothsna says:

    Wow, I’ve yet to see multicoloured corn like these!

  13. kribha says:

    Absolutely dumbfolded by the pics. What a beauty? I admire your photography skills. :yes: :bow:

  14. siri_me says:

    Gorgoeous looking corn :yes: and never saw it before.. great write up :D :love:

  15. TBC says:

    The write up is a little too long for me to read right now, but the pics are beautiful… esp pic no.4 :)

  16. musical says:

    These are some really pretty shots!

  17. Wow…Loved every Snap….how beautiful the Corns look…..:-))

  18. rina says:

    Never seen this, excellent pics.

  19. Latha says:

    Awesome photography!u guys rock!

  20. Dhana says:

    wow, feast to the eyes and umm brain..luvd the background and history of the Indian corn!

  21. shivapriya says:

    awesome pictures, those silky corn kernels look beautiful.

  22. richa says:

    they look so pretty :D

  23. Laavanya says:

    The corn kernels look so darn pretty.

  24. [...] jai bee placed an interesting blog post on Indian Corn.Here’s a brief overview:colored corn, coloured corn, Corn, flint corn, food, Indian corn, maize, microwave popcorn, Native American, PHOTO ESSAYS, RECIPES. [...]

  25. Manasi says:

    :bow: awesome!!

  26. sunita says:

    They are sooo pretty :yes:

  27. sia says:

    did u guys grow this?

    no. hopefully, next year.

  28. sia says:

    gorgeous pic… :yes:

  29. sandeepa says:

    Looks like jewels…gorgeous

  30. RedChillies says:

    Amazing pictures. For once I tought you had put together some beautiful jewelled beads to form corn. :tongue:

  31. sra says:

    I couldn’t believe my eyes as the pic kept downloading on my screen bit by bit – have never seen this kind of corn. So beautiful! What’s the greeny-yellow pumpkin at the back called? That’s very jewel-like.

    it’s one of the mini decorative gourds they sell around halloween. – b

  32. Nabeela says:

    I didn’t know you could make popcorn from fresh corn. How wonderful! Thanks!

  33. SJ says:

    Lovely pictures of corn! BTW, any idea if we get desi style corn here? Evrything I have ever bought here is sweet and I crave the road-side bhutta from the monsoons in India. Not quite the same effect when I try grilling corn here because it is so sweet.

    we don’t think desi-style corn is available here. it may be worth checking in some hispanic stores, though.

  34. Lucy says:

    Well, that corn is stunning. Alas, not available in these parts…great photography guys.

  35. Cynthia says:

    I always think that corn, like coconut is one of those perfect gifts of nature.

  36. Meeta says:

    Simply gorgeous photos – Love the colorful corn kernels and how you have portrayed them!

  37. Jeanne says:

    Those are the prettiest ears of corn I have ever seen! And the most stunning pictures… Like all the trivia – thanks. The idea of equal number of silks and kernels is fascinating but makes perfect sense when you think about it…

  38. Sivani says:

    Love the pictures. In this case, I would select the macro as my favorite – a tough decision, but I like the way it shows the streaky coloration of some kernels.

    Excellent work as always!

  39. Linda says:

    The closeup is extraordinary!

  40. Can’t believe corn can be so colourful! lovely pictures! :)
    That was lot of info on corn! Beans, squash and corn are sisters as they share the soil nutrients perfectly! Legumes (beans) enrich the soil with nitrogen required for other plants. I have read these facts in our school botany text book! :cool:

  41. VegeYum says:

    An amazing post! I learned so much. And those photos – I have never ever seen a corn like that one. BTW, in Australia, we call it sweet corn.

  42. Kalyani says:

    very Surprised to see the corn in multicolours, its awesome :) did not know that blue colour corn ever existed, interesting post.

  43. Bharathy says:

    Sorry to be late here..
    Phew!!Breathtaking pics of multicoloured corn…never knew abt these sofar.interesting to note that each kernal having its own genetic code!!Woooah!!
    Simply beauuutiful!!!! :angel:

  44. brilynn says:

    Absolutely beautiful pics! Brilliant colours.

  45. [...] In the 1800s, the uppity English set ought to teach Americans how to eat corn – predominantly the hard, jewel-like Indian corn. [...]

  46. [...] the multicolour Indian Corn. (More pics here.). No [...]

  47. [...] Williams; Guitar and Flute via At Peace Media; Model with Feather necklace by Fleur Wood; Corn by  JugalBandi; Boutonniere photo by Sarah Neal;  Feather Headband by Feather Brain; Wheat Reception by Amy [...]

  48. [...] Indian corn/maize, Squashes and Beans. [...]

  49. Your photos and blog are just fantastic. As a wedding and portrait photographer in San Jose, I know that it’s challenging photographing outstanding pictures. I’ll definitely comeback to keep checking your site.

rss email

  • Archives

  • Categories