Why is Corn Most Important Crop in the World?

Even if you don’t eat the kernels off the cob, you likely have much more corn in your diet than you imagine. Besides fresh corn, frozen corn, canned corn, corn meal, corn oil, and corn starch, these are some of the many unexpected fates of corn:

  • Baking powder and confectioners (“powdered”) sugar, which often contain corn starch
  • Corn syrup, a liquid sugar derived from corn starch that sweetens soft drinks, ketchup, and many other foods
  • Vanilla extract, which is often made with corn syrup
  • Dextrin and maltodextrins, which are derived from corn starch; these polysaccharides thicken syrups and add texture to low-fat foods (among other uses)
  • The sugars dextrose (glucose) and fructose
  • Margarine, which often contains corn oil
  • The grain alcohol in bourbon whiskey; ethanol from corn is also a biofuel
  • Animal feed; chickens, hogs, and cattle on commercial farms are fed corn, effectively converting the nutrients in corn to meat

The corn plant has also played a major role in the history of biology. In the 1940s, Barbara McClintock discovered transposons, or “jumping genes,” in Indian corn. She won the 1983 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for this work, which has led to new ways to mutate genes and, in turn, new insights into gene function.

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