The word “corn” has various meanings depending upon different geographical regions. It stands for any local grains that are safe to eat and harvested in large areas. In British English, the word corn pertains to any cereal crop or grain. Etymologically, the Latinate word “grain” and Germanic word “corn” represent any edible plant-seed like millet, barley, rye, wheat, maize, oats etc. For the British people, corn is the chief grains that are available in their county as food crop; so they interpreted corn as wheat. When the English and German speakers entered the New World, they attributed the term corn to the local grain namely, “Zea mays”. At the same time they distinguished Zea mays as Indian corn, to keep the word “corn” separate so as to apply it for the grains in total.
In many countries, corn is the name given to the leading crop grown in certain districts. In Scotland and Ireland, it relates to oats. In the Bible, corn is nothing but wheat and barley. In USA and Canada corn and maize are one and the same, and is meant for the plant that produces kernels used for cooking. However, the term corn is preferred over maize for food products that are made from it, such as corn flour, corn starch, cornmeal etc. However, with regard to commodity trading, corn is only maize, and does not include any other grains. In culinary, the corn is generally mentioned as sweet corn, popcorn, cornflakes, baby corn, dent corn, flint corn, flour corn, and waxy corn. It is the main component of canned corn, baby food, mush, puddings, and many other human foods.
In 1492 AD, when Columbus reached the northern Antilles near San Salvador, it was inhabited by the indigenous Tahino people who called their staple crop as mahiz. The Spaniards took enough of these giant grains for distribution on their voyage and propagated the name mahiz throughout. Thus, etymologically, the word has become today’s “maize” in English, and “maiz” in Spanish. For the English settlers in the New World, maize was a new crop and they lacked a proper word to call maize. So they called it Indian corn, which later became corn. Many scholars hold that maize was entirely a different plant than the present genetically altered crop we harvest. The name, Maize is accepted for scientific as well as international applications, because it refers only to this particular grain, whereas corn suggests different meanings by context and geographical locations.
Maize was originated from its Mexican variant called teosinte. It has a single erect solid stem with long and narrow leaves that grow alternately, whereas teosinte is small and bushy. The difference in their appearance is due to the variation in their two genes. Teosinte and maize can be subjected to cross breeding to make fertile offspring. The maize is now considered to be one of the main grain crops in the world.
Ancient farmers in Mexico are known to be the first to domesticate maize. They noticed that the plants were not at all the same in appearance. Some grew larger than others, and some kernels were tastier. So they selected the best ones that got desired characteristics and cultivated them for the next harvest season. This process was called selective breeding, from which the modern maize originated.
Uses of Maize or Corn
The maize, which is one of the major staple foods in the world, is used as filler for plastics, insulation and adhesives. It is also utilized for making chemicals, explosives, paint, dyes, pharmaceuticals, solvents etc. Maize plants constitute the main subject material for the study of genetics and biochemistry. It is rich in carbohydrates and vitamins A, B & C. Consumption of maize reduces diabetes and hypertension. The antioxidants contained in it improve eye health too.