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Illinois Summer Complete with Corn

You cannot miss it, the fields upon fields of Illinois corn growing tall (and taller). With those packed acres and so many Illinois towns having corn festivals, it is time to talk corn.

Vegetable or Grain?

Corn is grown as a cereal grain, like wheat, rice, or barley. The current food guide – the MyPlate – has 5 food groups: fruits, vegetables, protein, dairy, and grains. Using this guide, corn should fit into the grain group like pasta or bread.

However, most Americans prepare and eat corn as a vegetable addition to meals. Considering this, MyPlate puts corn into the vegetable group. But notice: there are many different categories of vegetables. Corn is a starchy vegetable like potatoes and green peas.

While you should continue to include starchy vegetables like corn in your meals since they are a good source of nutrients, remember to focus on eating more non-starchy dark green, red, and orange vegetables. These are lower in calories than starchy vegetables but still have important nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and fiber.


A 1-cup serving of corn contains around 125 calories, 27g carbohydrates, 3g fiber, 5g protein, and is a source of vitamins and minerals such as magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and folate. Like many fresh vegetables, corn has very little fat and sodium. (If you eat an ear of corn about 7-inches long, it contains around 90 calories, 20g carbohydrates, 2g fiber, and 3g protein.)

Summer is the best season for fresh sweetcorn, and it is more difficult to find fresh at other times of the year, but frozen and canned would be available.

  • Buy: Look for fresh corn still in the green husk with the silks on the ends turning brown and drying out. Peel away the husks a bit to check on the ears. Kernels of corn you see on the ear should be plump and firm without being dry or shriveled. Avoid ears that have evidence of insect or disease damage. If choosing processed corn, such as canned or frozen, look for those without added sodium or sauces.
  • Price: According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, on average, fresh corn costs around $1.80 per cup. Canned corn is around $0.50 per cup, while frozen is around $0.60 per cup. Look for the best prices on fresh corn in summer, and look to buy from local farmers at farmer's markets and in grocery stores.
  • Store: The longer corn is stored, the more of the sugars in the corn will turn to starch, making the corn less sweet tasting. Store inside the husk loosely covered in the refrigerator to use as soon as possible or within a couple of days.
  • Prepare: Shuck the corn, pulling the husks down the ear and off at the base. Run under cold water and remove the silks as you go. Cook as desired on the ear, such as boiled, steamed, grilled, roasted, and microwaved. Avoid adding salt to cooking water which will toughen the corn.

To remove corn from the ear, place a cleaned and shucked ear on a plate, large end down. Starting at the top of the ear, run the knife straight down leaving behind about 1/4 inch of the kernel on the cob. This prevents cutting off the tough cob fibers. Rotate the ear and continue cutting until all the kernels have been removed.

Looking to can or freeze your corn for longer? See WEB RESOURCE 2 for information from the National Center for Home Food Preservation.

  • Eat: Very versatile, eat corn on the cob, off the cob as a vegetable side or in a salad, added to soups and salsa, cooked into muffins and corn cakes, and most any way you want in both savory or sweet recipes.

Reference: US Department of Agriculture, Agriculture Research Service, National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference
Reference: University of Illinois Extension, Watch Your Garden Grow, Corn

Let fresh (or canned or frozen) corn add sweetness in your recipes. And try this dish, perfect in the heat of summer.

Cool Corn Salad (serves 4)

Using many staples of summer produce, this corn salad is an easy way to keep the heat down the kitchen and still eat healthfully. Try bell peppers or cucumbers in place of the zucchini for a change of pace and more crunch.

2 cups fresh or frozen (thawed) corn
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 cup diced zucchini
1/4 cup diced red onion
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp lime juice
1 tsp shredded fresh basil
1/2 tsp ground black pepper

1. If using fresh corn, husk about 2 to 3 ears of corn, wash under cold water, and remove silks.
2. In a large pot of boiling water, cook the corn for 3-5 minutes. Drain and cool by immersing in ice water. When corn has cooled, cut enough corn from the cobs to yield 2 cups.
3. In a large bowl, combine corn, tomatoes, zucchini, and red onion.
4. In a small bowl, whisk oil, juice, basil, and black pepper until combined. Pour over corn mixture and toss to coat. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 140 calories, 8g fat, 15mg sodium, 18g carbohydrate, 3g fiber, 3g protein

WEB HIGHLIGHT: Learn more about growing corn through University of Illinois Extension website "Watch Your Garden Grow" for corn.

WEB HIGHLIGHT 2: Did you get more corn than you can eat? Learn more about preserving it at the National Center for Home Food Preservation through the University of Georgia.

FOOD SCIENCE HIGHLIGHT: Zeaxanthin: Zeaxanthin is one of many carotenoids (heard of beta-carotene?). This carotenoid gives foods a yellow color, like sweet corn. In the body, zeaxanthin is found in the eyes and some research suggests including foods with this pigment may promote eye health.

Today's post was written by Caitlin Huth and reposted from the Healthy Eats and Repeat blog in August 2014. Corn prices have been updated from available USDA information since the previous posting. Caitlin Huth, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian and Nutrition & Wellness Educator serving DeWitt, Macon, and Piatt Counties. She teaches nutrition- and food-based lessons around heart health, food safety, diabetes, and others. In all classes, she encourages trying new foods, gaining confidence in healthy eating, and getting back into our kitchens.

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