posted on Mar, 25 2012 @ 10:25 AM
Corn can refer to any of the cereal grains but in the US most often specifically refers to maize and that is what grain you are referring to. I make
this clarification because the sources I cite refer to maize by name rather than the more ambiguous "corn." There are a few facts that perhaps should
be made more widely known about it. I see nothing wrong with eating sweet corn but untreated by nixtamalization its nutritional potential is not
Maize is the most widely grown grain crop in the Americas with 332 million metric tons grown annually in the United States alone. Approximately
40% of the crop - 130 million tons - is used for corn ethanol. Transgenic maize (Genetically Modified Corn) made up 85% of the maize planted in the
United States in 2009.
When maize was first introduced into farming systems other than those used by traditional native-American peoples, it was generally welcomed with
enthusiasm for its productivity. However, a widespread problem of malnutrition soon arose wherever maize was introduced as a staple food. This was a
mystery, since these types of malnutrition were not normally seen among the indigenous Americans, for whom maize was the principal staple food.
Maize was introduced into the diet of nonindigenous Americans without the necessary cultural knowledge acquired over thousands of years in the
Americas. In the late 19th century, pellagra reached epidemic proportions in parts of the southern U.S., as medical researchers debated two theories
for its origin: the deficiency theory (which was eventually shown to be true) said that pellagra was due to a deficiency of some nutrient, and the
germ theory said that pellagra was caused by a germ transmitted by stable flies. In 1914, the U.S. government officially endorsed the germ theory of
pellagra, but rescinded this endorsement several years later when the evidence grew against it. By the mid-1920s, the deficiency theory of pellagra
was becoming scientific consensus, and the theory was validated in 1932 when niacin deficiency was determined to be the cause of the illness.
Once alkali processing and dietary variety were understood and applied, pellagra disappeared in the developed world. The development of high lysine
maize and the promotion of a more balanced diet have also contributed to its demise. Pellagra still exists today in food-poor areas and refugee camps
where people survive on donated maize.
Soaking the corn in lye kills the seed's germ, which keeps it from sprouting while in storage. In addition to preserving the grain as foodstuff,
this process also affords several significant nutritional advantages over untreated maize products. It converts some of the niacin (and possibly other
B vitamins) into a form more absorbable by the body, improves the availability of the amino acids, and (at least in the lime-treated variant)
supplements the calcium content, balancing maize's comparative excess of phosphorus.
The ancient process of nixtamalization was first developed in Mesoamerica, where maize was originally cultivated. There is no precise date when
the technology was developed, but the earliest evidence of nixtamalization is found in Guatemala's southern coast, with equipment dating from
The nixtamalization process was very important in the early Mesoamerican diet, as unprocessed maize is deficient in free niacin. A population
depending on untreated maize as a staple food risks malnourishment, and is more likely to develop deficiency diseases such as pellagra. Maize also is
deficient in essential amino acids, which can result in kwashiorkor. Maize cooked with lime provided niacin in this diet. Beans, when consumed with
the maize, provided the amino acids required to balance the diet for protein.
In the United States, European settlers did not always adopt the nixtamalization process, except in the case of hominy grits, though maize became a
staple among the poor of the southern states. This led to endemic pellagra in poor populations throughout the southern US in the early 20th
Nixtamalization prevents pellagra. Untreated, the disease can kill within four or five years. Treatment is with nicotinamide, a chemical related to
niacin. The frequency and amount of nicotinamide administered depends on the degree to which the condition has progressed. Pellagra is no longer
common in the United States.
An interesting side note is that Niacin, Vitaman B2, is also known as nicotinic acid but its name was shortened to niacin so that people would not get
the notion they could get their vitamin B2 benefit from the use of tobacco products.
I like eating corn in most all of its varieties of preparations, including huitlacoche which is a type of corn fungus, and here in Mexico those
preparations are commonly available.
edit on 25-3-2012 by Erongaricuaro because: (no reason given)