Maize is an annual cereal crop, belonging to the grass family of ‘Gramineae’. It composes of kernels having long ears. These kernels are used in the form of grains as food for both humans and animals and also as a source of oil. Maize is also known by the name of ‘corn’ in many countries. Maize or corn is a rich source of carbohydrates, Vitamin B, proteins and minerals. Most of commercial maize grows at a maximum height of 2.5 ft. In India, maize is also known as ‘bhutta’ in Hindi.
Variety of Maize
A wide variety of maize or corn is available in the market. Following are the types of corn that are commonly produced in India:
- Dent Corn: There is indentation on the top part of the kernel, because of which it is known as a dent corn. This indentation is caused by the shrinkage of starch present in the crop. Dent corn can be of two types, namely yellow and white corn
- Sweet Corn: It is sweet in taste and is primarily produced for human consumption. It is available in any grocery store in cans
- Popcorn: Popcorn is a type of maize that explodes from the kernel and when heated, gets puffed up. The term ‘pop’ implies that the kernel pops open as the corn heats up because of a rapid expansion of moisture present in the kernel
- Flint Corn: Also known as Indian corn, it has a hard outer shell and comes in a variety of colors like white, red, etc.
History of Maize
Maize first came into being in Mexico, where it was domesticated around 9000 years back. It was cultivated from a wild grass known as ‘teosinte’, that had kernels which were not long and were also not placed together. From there, it soon propagated to the New Wold in 1500 BC and by the 16th century, maize was being cultivated throughout the globe. Maize soon became the staple diet of North and South America when Columbus set his foot in these two continents. In fact, corn was not just a staple food for many, but was also an important means of trade and was used as a form of currency.
Stages of Maize Growth
There are several stages in the growth of maize and each stage requires careful practice and analysis of the condition best suitable for its growth. The various stages are:
- The maize crop is planted in early April and goes on till the late of May. The plant emerges from the surface of the soil after one to three weeks from the date of planting
- At around the middle of the growing priod, i.e., in July, the plant gains the maximum height and this is when the pollen is shed from the tassels to fertilize at least two ears from the plant that has been planted
- The kernels start to grow after 7-8 weeks of pollination and reach at their maximum weight in September. After this, the plant loses its color, and everything, from kernel to stalks to leaves begin to dry
- After the kernels have dried at a rate of at least 15-22 percent, the process of harvest is undertaken. In the harvesting process, a special machine known as ‘pick-sheller’ is used to remove the ear from the plant as well as the husk from the ear, and shells the grain by removing the kernels from the cob
Uses of Maize
Maize has a wide variety of uses that ranges from both human to industrial. Maize is used as a livestock, forage or silage for animals. Humans eat maize or corn in the form of popcorn, porridge, beverage, etc. In terms of industrial usage, the grains of the maize are used in the transformation of plastics and fabrics. Ethanol, produced from maize, is being used as an additive in gas to prevent pollution levels and reduce the use of petroleum.
Maize is processed through milling process to weed out every germ harmful rodents present in it. The various milling processes are:
- Wet Milling: In wet milling, the corns are soaked in a solution of warm water and sulfur dioxide in a process known as ‘steeping’. The kernels present in the corns are softened as result of this process and are then pulped in mills. They are then separated into various parts like hulls, germs, gluten and starch
- Feed Milling: In feed milling, the whole kernels are grounded and mixed with various vitamins, salt, etc. that make it nutritious enough to be fed for the poultry
- Dry Corn Milling: In dry corn milling, the corn or maize is tempered and cleaned with hot water and steamed for about 2-6 hours to soften the bran and the germ so that it becomes easier for them to be separated from the endosperm. The coarse, granular material is sifted using a sifter machine and then the miller extracts the oil and the corn flour from the kernel.
Health Benefits of Maize
Maize is a rich source of Vitamin B1, Vitamin B5, Vitamin C, dietary fibers, etc. The presence of thiamin in maize helps in keeping the memory power intact, thereby preventing the dreaded “Alzheimer’s” disease. Folate, a good source of Vitamin B helps in preventing birth defects and also helps in lowering the level of Homocysteine that has the potential of damaging the blood vessels. Consumption of corn also prevents the occurrence of lung cancer as it is rich in beta-cryptoxanthin, an orange-red carotenoid found in corn in large proportion.