Corn is not entirely a replacement for staple cereals, but it does provide a viable alternative
Industrialisation and the Green Revolution may have given us a more efficient world but it has also led to a severe and irreversible depletion of certain resources. Our reliance on wheat and rice means that the soils are unable to replenish themselves as rapidly which means a higher dependence on artificial ways to regenerate nutrients. It wasn’t long before humans decided to hunt down alternative sources of carbohydrates which were easier on the system and yet as beneficial as the others.
Enter corn, a unique crop which, while not entirely a replacement for staple cereals, still does provide a viable alternative. Corn flour can be a good source of proteins, vitamins and certain minerals while being high-fat and low-carb. It is not the ideal replacement for whole-wheat flour but it does happen to be gluten-free which is a big bonus. Also, it is good for the eyes and helps prevent anaemia.
But it’s not always consumed as corn on the cob or baby corn, (which is related but not the same). From grits to corn flakes, cornstarch to corn oil (from the elementary application to being used for making soaps and absorbents), medicinal cornsilk, corn (sugar) syrup and even glue, this agro-product can take on many forms. It is also a base to make ethanol both for industrial and commercial uses (corn car fuel) and for human consumption (think vodka and whiskies). So, although it was first discovered and cultivated in Mexico 7,000 years ago, today it’s these very diverse uses and applications that make corn a major part of millions of American lives everyday, as also an integral contributor to their economy.
Chhindwara, for those who don’t know, is the heart of corn production in India. It falls in Madhya Pradesh, and coincidentally the constituency from where the current CM hails. Little surprise then that they have put in massive efforts to redeem this heartland crop and shine the limelight on it. The recently organised corn festival is the largest of its kind in India and showed some very positive initiatives to promote the crop, and both its growers and users. Currently planting over 300 different varieties, they have corn for all sorts of applications. This has made it a good export item and consequently prices have risen, thereby enabling farmers to incorporate more machines and technology at their end and allowing them to process their corn better before selling. Even Mexican delegations have been invited to play a role in the development of this local industry.
I could not make it to the festival this year but I did get in some lovely Q&As with the organisers and felt it would make for a fit change from my usual column to talk about it here.
And considering how some of my favourite tipples come from corn — Tito’s and Stolichnaya vodka to all my favourite American whiskies (including Bourbons) Elijah Craig, Rip Van Winkle, Bulleit and many others — I thought I owe it to sweet corn to scribble a few words for our homegrown movement. We already make lovely single malts in India, why not an American-style whiskey with corn next? I hope the good folks at Paul John, Rampur and Amrut are listening.
The writer is a sommelier