Gardening Articles: Edibles :: Vegetables

Sweeter Sweet Corn

by Warren Schultz

Remember supersweet corn? About 20 years ago, it was touted as the corn of the future. Bred with the so-called shrunken gene, supersweet varieties contain two to three times as much sucrose as normal sweet corn, and maintain that level up to 48 hours after harvest, compared with other varieties, which lose half of their sucrose in 24 hours. It seemed as though every corn lover--s dream had been answered. The breeders had eliminated sweet corn--s one shortcoming: the fleeting nature of its flavor.

But supersweets never really caught on with home gardeners the way they were supposed to. They had--and still have--several shortcomings. The corn requires isolation from normal varieties in the field, and germination is weak. Furthermore, purists argue that it has a saccharine sweetness that doesn't really taste like corn. Yes, it stays sweet, but it's similar to the way that diet cola stays sweet in the can. Perhaps the corn had lost something when it gained its sweet staying power. Maybe it's the ephemeral sweetness and the urgent need for freshness that defines corn. By tempering that, breeders may have removed its very corn-ness.

Whatever the reasons, gardeners, for the most part, ignored the supersweets, even though farmers are planting millions of pounds of it for the supermarket trade, where it winds up on counters beside those cardboard tomatoes.

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