Sweet maize is a summertime staple, and it’s delicious no matter how it’s cooked.
We’ve put together some tips about how to choose the best ear at your local grocery store or farmers’ market, as well as some popular cooking techniques. But first, we should probably explain the difference between field maize and sweet maize.
Maize in Europe is grown primarily in northern Italy, France, Poland, Spain, Germany, Hungary, Romania and Ukraine. The most popular kind is field maize (also called grain or silage) and is used for livestock feed, ethanol and various food ingredients. The rest of maize planted in Europe is sweet maize and is used for direct consumption or sent through food supply chains.
Field maize is pretty impressive to see, with stalks reaching heights of 1.5 to 2.5 metres. Tractors or trucks are specifically made to pick the maize, and harvest is usually from mid-August in the southern regions through late October (and sometimes later) in the northern regions.
Field maize is high in starch with bright yellow kernels with small dents in them (most is called No. 2 Yellow Dent). A little more than 15 million hectares of maize are planted each year, of which 60 percent is harvested as grain (about 9.4 million hectares). The rest (5.9 million hectares) is harvested as silage for cattle feel or biofuel.
Only 70,000 hectares of sweet maize are planted annually, and it is hand-picked just three months after being planted. Topping out at 1 to 1.5 metres, sweet maize is typically a bit shorter than its field counterpart. The kernels can be white, yellow or bi-colour and are plumper because the maize is harvested at the peak of its maturity. Sweet maize also has higher sugar content than field maize, hence the name.
Sweet maize is usually still wrapped up in its husk when you buy it, so it’s good to know what to look to for when selecting the best ears. Some people pull back pieces of the husk to take a peek, but there’s an easier way to visually inspect an ear of corn to determine if it’s fresh.
Grilling: Three methods to consider
For all of these, cover the grill and turn the maize occasionally, letting them cook for 15 to 20 minutes.
Microwave: One of the easiest ways to cook sweet maize is to leave it in its husk and pop it in the microwave for four minutes. Pull it out, chop off one end and the husk and silks will slide right off. You can watch a video on cooking maize in the microwave here.
Boiling: This method takes a little more time, but it’s just as delicious. Boil some water in a large pot, toss in the maize (with or without its husk), cover and cook for about 10 minutes.
Looking to cook a more elaborate dish with your carefully selected corn? Try some of these!