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July 21, 2011

Corn – The Other Grain

by Anne Paddock

Corn or “maize” has been getting bad press over the past few years primarily because its best attributes – speed and versatility – can also be its worst, thus inviting criticism. Corn grows rapidly in diverse climates and as such is grown throughout the world although the USA and China are the largest producers.  In its most pure form, corn is a grain cultivated and harvested early with the kernels used as a vegetable because its natural sugar content is at its highest early: hence the word “sweet corn.” High in fiber, magnesium, phosphorus, thiamin, and vitamin C, corn is also low in fat and sodium.

canstockphoto1389321Corn harvested later when the kernel has dried means the grain can be milled, ground, processed, fermented and distilled to make a number of products including polenta, grits, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, cornmeal, animal grain, popcorn, grain alcohol, ethanol and more. The uses are numerous and as a result, corn can get a bad rap.  In the United States, high fructose corn syrup has replaced table sugar in many processed foods for the simple reason high fructose corn syrup is cheaper than sugar. Corn is also used to make ethanol which is mixed with gasoline to decrease the pollutants emitted from motor vehicles.

canstockphoto6135352Cornmeal is a flour ground from corn and although there are many types, there are two major variations:  steel ground or stone ground.  Steel ground cornmeal has had the husk and germ removed and is sometimes referred to as “de-germinated” whereas stone ground cornmeal retains some of the husk and germ thus providing more flavor and nutrition. Cornmeal comes in three consistencies:  fine, medium and coarse and is a major ingredient in corn muffins. Because cornmeal lacks gluten, baked goods won’t rise without adding a leavening agent such as baking powder.

I like corn muffins to be moist, slightly sweet  and moderate in fat content but most of all, I want to taste the grain.  In my search for a grainy corn muffin, I initially referred to the “corn muffin” recipe from Cooks Illustrated and modified it by substituting whole grain flour for unbleached all-purpose flour and yogurt for the sour cream and milk.  Typically, a whole wheat flour will make a muffin heavy but King Arthur Flour (www.kingarthurflour.com) recently came out with a flour called Unbleached White Whole Wheat Flour which is milled from a hard white spring wheat, rather than a red wheat. Consequently, this flour acts much more like a white flour in baking with a mild taste that won’t dominate the flavor of the cornmeal but with all the nutritional value of whole wheat flour.

King ArthurThe following recipe makes 12 large corn muffins. Each muffin has approximately 170 calories and 8.5 grams of fat.

Corn Muffins
2 cups King Arthur white unbleached whole wheat flour
1 cup stone ground fine cornmeal (not degerminated)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 cup 2% low-fat Greek plain yogurt
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  • Spray muffin tin with non-stick cooking spray.
  • Whisk flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk eggs until combined.
  • Add sugar to the eggs and blend.
  • Add the melted butter to the egg and sugar mixture.
  • Add the yogurt to the wet ingredients.
  • Gently add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Do not overmix.
  • Fill muffin tin.
  • Bake approximately 20 minutes until the muffins are a light golden brown.
  • Let cool for 5 minutes and then remove from the pan.

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