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Sweet sweet corn

September 15th, 2005 · 1 Comment

One of the things I love about going abroad is the fact that the food is always cheaper and better (at the same price) than London. Sure, London has good food – if you can afford the money and time to check it out. When you’re on holiday, not only does the rest of the entire planet offer cheaper food, but you have more time to appreciate it. So when I went to Toronto for a week, I sampled a rather large number of restaurants, pretty much all of which were good.

However, I’m a little sad that I only got to eat one ear of corn when I was out there. For reasons that are still unknown to me, corn in North America is far sweeter and tastier than our so-called ’sweetcorn’ in the UK. I know for certain that most of the corn I eat in North America is grown fairly locally, whereas UK sweetcorn seems to come from all over the place, including England. But while I have never had a disappointing ear of corn in North America, I count myself astoundingly lucky if I have a decent bit of corn in England.

For some time – before I first travelled to the US – I thought that UK sweetcorn was how real corn tasted: not bad, but on reflection, not particularly sweet. This changed when I travelled. I then mused that perhaps the corn plants I’m eating are just a different species, or maybe the corn was harmed by the way it was transported.

Like a good scientist, I investigated the latter possibility only a few hours ago. In the interests of furthering human knowledge, I have published my findings below:

Is the taste of UK sweetcorn harmed by the way it is transported? (to be published in Nature 439:7208)

Introduction: Most sweetcorn in the UK is bought from supermarkets, who typically package their sweetcorn in film-wrapped packages that are likely to have been in transit for several days or even longer. They may have also undergone additional treatment during the packaging and transportation process, and other treatments associated with the mass production of food. In contrast, the sweetcorn the experimenter (Adrian) has tested in North America has typically been ‘raw’ ears of corn, unpackaged; this type is also available in the UK, but this experimenter has not tasted it.

This experiment will compare the taste of UK ‘raw’ corn to UK supermarket corn.

Hypothesis: The taste of sweetcorn is harmed by packaging, treatment and distribution processes associated with supermarkets, but not associated with ‘raw’ corn bought from healthy shops, etc.

Apparatus:

Sweetcorn bought from ‘Fresh & Wild’ (wholly owned by ‘Whole Foods Market’)
Pot
Heating panel

Method: The green bits on the sweetcorn were removed. The sweetcorn was split in two, in order to fit it in the pot, and then both halves were submerged in water. The pot was placed on the heating panel and a pinch of salt added. Heat was applied until the water began to boil. This heat was maintained for three to four minutes, until which point the sweetcorn was removed from the pot and left to cool for five minutes. Before eating, margarine and salt was applied.

Results: From a qualitative perspective, the sweetcorn tasted significant less sweet and ‘tasty’ than North American corn. It tasted essentially the same as supermarket-bought sweetcorn, although perhaps slightly better due to the method of cooking.

Discussion: It appears that UK corn is significantly worse than North American corn, no matter where it is bought from or how it is distributed. However, the sample size in this experiment is small (n=1) and it is possible that there are other sources of sweetcorn in the UK that are better. Even so, it would be expected that a retailer such as ‘Fresh & Wild’ would source tasty corn, meaning that if tasty corn is indeed available in the UK, it is baffling that F&W would not sell it.

Conclusion: Based on the very small sample size of this experiment, it seems that it is not possible to get ‘good’ corn in the UK. Still, additional investigation is required. Increasing the sample size and acquiring different sources of corn is vital. Secondly, it is advisable that the experimenter travels back to North America to perform additional taste tests on their corn. Funding for this travel will be applied for to UK research councils in the near future.

Tags: food · science · travel · usa

1 response so far ↓

  • sweetcorn king // Dec 7, 2007 at 3:10 pm

    You are probably comparing USA multisweet corn against UK supersweet corn.

    In the UK we grow supersweet because its hardier and stands up to our UK weather.

    The product in our supermarket differs only from loose leafon by the fact it is stripped corn.

    Once the leaves are removed dehydration does accelerate also sweetcorn’s shelflife is determined by the amount of sugars in the corn which convert rapidly to starch.

    Its important to strip the leaves off to make sure the quality of the corn is good, there are no boring insects or aphids, and the corn has fertised properly.

    To enjoy UK corn at its best buy it from supermarket with at least 2 days shelf life left keep refrigerated and eat soon after purchased.

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