Maize is a grain that was created by Americans in prehistory – no known wild version of maize exists. The Olmec and Mayan civilisations cultivated maize in what is now Mexico, four thousand years ago. Over the next thousand years, maize farming spread over both the American continents: it is a grain crop which grows well in diverse climates and can be eaten both fresh as a vegetable and dried and ground to make bread. It’s gluten-free, too.
Sweetcorn is a mutant form of maize. Inside the little yellow kernels, the genes that control the conversion of sugar to starch don’t function as they should – grains keep well because they get starchy and dry as they mature – so sweetcorn stores poorly but it tastes great fresh. It’s a good source of folate and potassium.
In sweetcorn’s native lands, traditional desserts are based on sweetcorn, such as el atol de elote from El Salvador – a puree of fresh corn kernels with milk, sugar and cinnamon: and in Mexico you can get sweetcorn icecream.