Gardening Articles: Edibles :: Vegetables
Corn of Many Colors
by Kris Wetherbee
Popcorn from multicolored ears brings new flavors and fun to popcorn
Each year Americans consume nearly 18 billion quarts of popped corn. Plain, buttered, seasoned with spices or cheese, rolled into sweetened balls, and even coated with caramel and nuts, it's become one of this country's favorite snacks.
Corn of various types was first cultivated in Mexico, and popcorn was probably the first type grown. In fact, ears of popcorn, some estimated to date back 5,600 years, were found 50 years ago in a bat cave in New Mexico.
Yet in this country, popcorn didn't necessarily start off with a bang. Native Americans are credited with introducing popcorn to the colonists in the 1600s, but the real awakening came at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893, when Frederick Rueckheim presented a tasty popcorn confection, which he marketed six years later as Cracker Jack. By 1914, the American Pop Corn Company began selling the first brand-name popcorn, Jolly Time.
Traditional yellow popcorn varieties include 'Giant Yellow'
As a consumer, you can choose from yellow or white kernels, with yellow being more available. But as a home gardener, your choices include colorful red, blue, black, and even multicolored varieties. And, as popcorn connoisseurs know, definite taste differences exist among them.
As its name suggests, popcorn is corn that actually pops, which it does only when cured correctly. Popcorn's kernels consist of nearly all hard starch with a small amount of moisture (13 to 14 percent), covered by a thin, hard shell called the enamel. When perfectly cured popcorn is heated, each kernel acts as a miniature steam engine. As pressure builds and the moisture inside expands, the kernel explodes, inside out. All popcorn is a shade of white inside, so once popped, even the colored kinds look similar.
Yellow popcorn explodes into snowflake or butterfly shapes with a light corn taste. It also yields up to 46 times its original kernel size (white popcorn expands 35 to 40 times). This may explain why commercial vendors prefer yellow popcorn; each pound of popcorn produces more volume. Popular varieties include 'Giant Yellow' (105 days to maturity), 'Robust' (103 days), and 'South American' (103 days).
White popcorn bursts into smaller white mushroom shapes that are tender and slightly sweet. Try 'Japanese White Hulless' (110 days), 'White Cloud' (90 days), or 'White Snow Puff' (90 days).
Colored popcorn includes red, blue, black, and multicolored varieties. These pop into tender nuggets with a range of nutty flavors. While colored varieties are shades of white on the inside, their colored enamel shows specks of color amid the popped kernels. Red varieties include 'Early Pink' (85 days), which tastes similar to yellow popcorn; 'Ruby Red' (110 days); and 'Strawberry' (100 days), named for its small mahogany-colored cobs that look like strawberries. The last colors you might think of for corn may be blue or black, but 'Shaman's Blue' (112 days) is a striking purplish blue, and 'Black' (80 days) pops to bright white with black accents and a crunchy texture. Multicolored varieties include 'Calico' (90 days), 'Carousel' (104 days), and 'Park's Color Corn Mix' (95 days).
Miniature popcorn yields 2- to 4-inch cobs, compared to the 6- to 8-inch lengths of regular-size varieties. Kernels and popped corn are similarly small and have a slightly nutty taste. Varieties include 'Miniature Blue', 'Miniature Pink', and 'Multicolored Miniature', all needing 100 days to maturity.