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Better-Tasting Sweet Corn are Coming

Maize in India is quite popular and used in many ways. There are Seminars and Conferences to discuss the varieties and the crop to be used for the doubling the income of the farmers. As the crop was used as the animal and poultry feed.

Chander Mohan

Maize in India is quite popular and used in many ways. There are Seminars and Conferences to discuss the varieties and  the crop to be used for the doubling the income of the farmers. As the crop was used as the animal  and poultry feed.

In this modern era the corn is used as snacks as morning breakfast and evening tea snacks with spicy material. Now the taste is changing and the consumers are looking for more taste. Scientist are working on the better taste. Let us see....

Much of Florida’s corn is grown in the Everglades Agricultural Area, which is largely in Palm Beach County. That’s why, for years, the UF/IFAS sweet corn breeding program emanated largely from the Everglades Research and Education Center in Belle Glade, Florida.

UF/IFAS researchers will get help from scientists at Iowa State University, the University of Wisconsin, Washington State University and the USDA to conduct the study. The grant comes from the Specialty Crop Research Initiative, which is part of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, an arm of the USDA.

To get started on finding the best genetic traits, scientists will screen existing sweet corn seeds, to find genes that, among other things, help corn grow right after planting, Settles said. This will be particularly helpful for organic farmers, he said.

They also hope to try to beat back the silk fly, a pest that damages a lot of corn in Florida. Lastly, scientists seek genetic traits that make corn last longer on grocery store shelves and requires less pesticide use, Settles said. “We also want to make corn taste good for longer.”For 150 years, breeders have experimented constantly with sweet corns to improve flavor, texture, tenderness, appearance, growing time and hardiness. It's only in the last 20 years, however, that corn engineers have rocketed corn from sweet to sweeter to supersonic sweetness and thus changed the face of the sweet corn market. Bioengineering has changed old-fashioned types like Silver Queen, now called ''normals,'' into sweeter types called ''sugar enhanced'' and triply sweet types called ''supersweets.''

Bioengineering is the reason super sweet corn can be found in supermarkets year round -- and the reason Silver Queen can't be found in farmers' markets at the height of summer. Building a sweeter ear of corn has advantages -- a longer shelf life, for one -- but it has left a lot of corn lovers with only a remembrance of corn past.

In addition to consumers, scientists hope to help growers add value to a crop that already brings in $160 million a year for Florida farmers, making it the fifth-highest yielding crop in the state.

University of Florida scientists plan to use a $7.3 million, four-year grant to find the genetic traits that will make sweet corn taste even better, last longer and grow better across the nation.

Mark Settles, a professor of horticultural sciences at the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, will lead the project. Also on the UF/IFAS team are Marcio Resende, a UF/IFAS assistant professor of horticultural sciences – who’s also the new sweet corn breeder at UF/IFAS -- and Charles Sims, a UF/IFAS professor of food science and human nutrition.

“What we want to do is find those genes that make sweet corn a tasty vegetable and be able to then use those genes in traditional breeding,” Settles said. For example, researchers hope to boost the sugar levels of sweet corn. “It’s a really popular vegetable. But there have been few game-changing innovations that would boost the taste and yield of sweet corn.”

Fewer than 14 percent of American adults consume the USDA recommended amount of vegetables for a healthy diet, and overall, fruit and vegetable consumption is declining in the U.S., Settles said.

“As the fifth most popular vegetable in America, sweet corn is no exception to this trend,” he said. “However, demand for fresh market and frozen corn is increasing, relative to canned corn, and breeders need to be able to provide the best sweet corn seed possible as part of federal campaigns to encourage Americans to eat enough vegetables.”

“Both fresh and processed sweet corn must meet consumer desires for taste, appearance and convenience,” Settles said. “Many quality traits are best addressed through the genetics of sweet corn varieties.”

Through test panels run by Sims, researchers will find out tastes, aroma and texture that consumers like. As study participants sample the corn, they’ll also tell how much they’d be willing to pay for it, which makes up the economics portion of the research, Settles said.

Rushing corn from field to pot was the only way to get the optimum sweetness, because once it was picked, its kernels would begin to convert their sugar to starch. Not anymore: nowadays, sweet corn is bred to delay conversion, under refrigeration, for 48 hours or more, to retain sweetness in shipping and storing.

Today, breeders categorize all sweet corns as one of three types, based on genetic characteristics that interfere to a greater or lesser degree with the natural conversion of sugar to starch. But there's a huge gap between those who breed and grow corn and those who buy it. Consumers are likely to identify their favorite sweet corns by color: white, yellow or bicolored. But it's the genetic variety, not the color, that determines flavor and texture, and each of the three ''sweet'' gene types comes in all three colors. Normals, or old-fashioned types like the white Silver Queen, are ''sugary,'' which means they contain 5 to 10 percent sugar before any of it changes to starch. Other normals, still grown in backyard gardens but not commercially, include white varieties like Pearl White and Platinum Lady and bicolors like Calypso, Sweet Sue, Seneca Horizon and Cornfetti. A pair of yellow normals, Merit and Jubilee, are still the standard commercial corns for freezing and canning, because production lines have been built around them and people have come to expect a certain taste and texture in canned or frozen corn.

At the next level of sweetness are the sugar-enhanced types, with 15 to 25 percent sugar. Most farmers I've talked with grow recent varieties of the enhanced types as their main-season sweet corns, like white Argent and Incredible or yellow Miracle, because they are quicker and easier to grow and market than normals. These are the corns sold in green markets and sometimes in grocery stores, when they are selling local varieties.

Finally, there are the supersweet types, which produce as much as 25 to 35 percent sugar. They are known as shrunken corn because as they dry, their kernels tend to shrivel more than those with less sugar. Any sweet-corn kernel will shrink somewhat, said Margaret Smith, a corn breeder at the Cornell University College of Agriculture in Ithaca, N.Y. But supersweets, like yellow Sweetie, white Even Sweeter and bicolor Twice as Nice, shrink more because the sugar solution they are filled with doesn't maintain the kernels' shape as well as the starch that's present in lower-sugar corn.

Supersweets have captured the largest share of the commercial fresh corn market in the last decade, Kristian Holmstrom of Rutgers Cooperative Extension said, because producers want corn that ships better and customers want corn that tastes sweeter -- and even sweeter -- no matter what its texture. For 10 years, Florida has dominated the commercial sweet-corn crop, shipping supersweet varieties nationally from October to June, until summer crops ripen locally.

If only sweetness were all. Fooling with genes, said Don Prostak, a corn breeder formerly with Rutgers Cooperative Extension who now runs a company of his own, may mean giving up some attractive qualities to get others.

Supersweets tend to have tougher and thicker skins, which make their kernels less tender and harder to remove from the cob. ''My mother despises supersweets,'' Mr. Holmstrom said. ''She finds them tough and chewy. She likes a kernel that pops like a grape instead of crunches like an apple.''

Others complain that supersweets taste more like sugar than corn, but what is the taste of corn?

To a plant man like Mr. Holmstrom, ''corn should taste the way corn smells when it's silking,'' when the silks push out of the tip of the ear.

To a chef like David Page, the owner of Home and Drovers Tap Room in Greenwich Village, corn should taste like the yellow corn of his childhood. ''With a yellow corn like Jubilee I'm seeing the corn I grew up with in Wisconsin,'' Mr. Page said. ''Where I came from, corn is yellow, and you put yellow corn in your mouth, you're eating corn. It tastes different if it's white, you know what I mean?''

THE fact is, people have trouble describing what they mean. They remember what good old-fashioned corn tastes like. But what is that, exactly?

In laboratory tests, as reported by William F. Tracy, a sweet-corn expert at the University of Wisconsin, flavor is identified by aromas released in cooking, and the aroma most often described as ''corny'' contains the chemical compound dimethyl sulfide. Corn's aroma -- which has so much to do with its taste -- ranges from fruity and grainy to musty, sulfurous, fecal and rotten egglike. Somehow, this collection of aromas can be appealing, like the aromas of aged cheese. Creaminess is a quality that depends less on corn variety than on the maturity of the ear when it is picked. Some roadside stands label their corn ''light'' or ''heavy,'' depending on when the farmer picked it. Early on, the kernel is watery; later, the liquid thickens until it's as heavy as cream. My grandfather used to cut a kernel with his thumbnail, and if it squirted ''milk,'' it was ripe for picking. But creaminess also depends on freshness, and even though supersweet corn will not lose sweetness during shipping, creaminess is often long gone. Local farmers in the Northeast see big disadvantages in growing supersweets, so they mostly grow sugar-enhanced varieties.

The supersweets don't tolerate cold well, and they must be isolated from other varieties to prevent cross-pollination. Despite this, I found a couple of farmers at the Union Square Greenmarket who prefer super sweets. One is Alex Paffenroth, a descendant of onion farmers in Warwick, N.Y., who now plants bicolor corns for his main-season crop. But he's not about to reveal their names. ''There's a lot of competition out there,'' he said.

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