Maize, usually called corn in English speaking countries, is a staple grain that grows on long stems which can reach 2-3 m (7-10 ft) in height. The edible portion of the plant is called the ear, which is the female cluster of flowers (inflorescence). In most varieties of maize these are quite large with smaller yellow edible seeds, which are about the same size as peas. Corn can be eaten cooked or used in a number of dishes. It is also ground like wheat to create an important flour, which is used to create a number of food items such as tortillas. Other varieties of maize are used for animal feed or for producing products, such as corn ethanol. There are a number of varieties of maize, but in general the sugar rich varieties for eating are called sweet corn and the others are called field corn. Maize has also been extensively genetically modified to improve yields and pest/disease resistance. Let’s find out where maize comes from and where it is grown today.
Where does corn (maize) originate from?
The domestication of this plant is believed to have occurred sometime between 7,500-12,000 years ago in the area now known as Mexico. The exact origin and wild ancestor of the plant is not known, but a number of theories to explain the existence have been presented. We know that it is a domesticated version of teosinte (a family of native grasses) because they contain almost identical genes. However, these plants have very different appearance. It is unknown why the native people chose to domesticate this plant, because the edible portion of the wild teosinte plant was too small to harvest!
How did maize spread?
Maize began to spread about 2500 BC and by 2100 BC was being grown in what is now the United States. It continued to spread through the North American continent and became a very important crop for the native people. Maize was spread to Europe by the European explorers during the 15th and 16th century. From here it spread around the globe and became a popular grain because it can grow in many climates.
Where is maize grown today?
By weight, more maize is produced each year than any other grain. About 40% of the world’s harvest is grown in the United States and about 20% is grown in China. Other large producers of corn are Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia, India and France. Maize is grown on all continents on Earth, apart from Antarctica.