Inhabitants of the Americas have enjoyed the benefits of maize, a.k.a. corn, for millennia. Where did this amazing grain originate? Scientists have conducted much research to trace its roots, and have shown unequivocally that corn was domesticated in Mexico by early ancestors of the Aztecs and other indigenous peoples.
Archaeologists exploring human settlements dating from at least 9,000 years ago showed the presence of corn among the foodstuffs unearthed in an area of southern Mexico. Reinhart contacted Dr. John Doebley, a botanical geneticist at the University of Wisconsin, who, along with other scientists, was instrumental in proving the genesis of corn domestication. Using DNA analysis, Dr. Doebley and his peers were able to provide strong proof that the grandmother of all maize was a Mexican grass called teosinte. “Prehistoric people used selective breeding processes to cultivate the desired characteristics of teosinte into what eventually became today’s corn, much the same as wolves were selectively bred to become today’s dog breeds,” said Dr. Doebley. “Corn has been as important a food staple to the people of the American continents as rice has been to the civilizations of Asia.”
The value of corn in terms of global benefit is difficult to quantify. Suffice it to say that its value has been immense. Talk about sustainability! Corn has thrived since antiquity as a valuable, versatile cereal grain that is also categorized as a vegetable and a fruit. Humans have long harvested and harnessed corn for myriad applications, including food, spirits, oils and more recently, as fuel in the form of ethanol. According to the Iowa Corn Growers Association, a typical grocery store sells about 4,000 products that contain corn in some form. It’s used in everything from baby food to shampoo. Corn has a solid nutritional profile (see http://nutritiondata.com for USDA nutrient database), and is low in fat.
Masa is the term for flour made from corn. It is the basis for tortillas, taco shells, corn chips and countless other products. Today’s foodservice industry employs a giant cornucopia of menu items that wouldn’t exist if not for corn. Think of a culinary world without tortillas, tacos, tostadas, empanadas, enchiladas, tamales, polenta, corn bread, corn chowder, corn chips and even those cute miniature cobs of corn used in many Asian dishes.
Read on to see where corn is cropping up on menus across the country.
1. Fresh Corn Grill
has two locations near Los Angeles. One of its signature items is the Fresh Corn Grilled Salad, a colorful composed dish of grilled corn, asparagus and zucchini with tomatoes and avocados, served on a bed of mixed greens with vinaigrette dressing. Diners can opt to add grilled chicken, salmon, steak or shrimp.
2. Frontera Grill
in Chicago accompanies Carne Asada Brava (habanero marinated flank steak) with roasted tomato Salsa Huevona and sweet corn tamales.
3. Union Square Café,
Danny Meyer’s 30-year-old favorite in New York City, has long offered an incomparable side dish, Anton Mills Polenta. The creamy polenta is laced with Gorgonzola cheese and walnuts.
4. Giada’s Restaurant
in the Cromwell in Las Vegas garners raves for a popular side dish, Sweet Corn with Spicy Sausage.
5. Border Grill
in Los Angeles (and other locations) serves Chicken Poblano Enchiladas, with handmade corn tortillas, roasted chicken, poblano crema, grilled corn, wild mushrooms and charred poblano chiles.
6. Johnny Sanchez,
the John Besh/Aaron Sanchez collaboration with locations in Baltimore and New Orleans has Steamed Masa Cake for dessert. It’s flavored with citrus, buttermilk and sweet corn.