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A Guide to Corn: Varieties, Harvesting, and Storing

Updated on August 30, 2013

a great summer treat

There are tons of American recipes for corn, and it's a southern food favorite! Few things say "summer" better than corn-on-the-cob dripping with melted butter. When you bite into a perfect ear of corn, the kernels explode in your mouth with sweet juice, giving your taste buds a delightful treat. Of course, if you freeze the corn correctly, you can enjoy the sweet goodness any time of year. Corn can be frozen or preserved in jars, either on or off the cob. Use it as whole kernel, creamed corn, in soup mixes, or as the all-time favorite, corn on the cob.

Corn is a favorite addition to many meals, especially in the Americas. What’s a barbecue or low-country boil without corn on the cob? Corn is a good source of vitamin B1, vitamin B5, vitamin C, fiber, phosphorus, folate, and manganese. Fresh and frozen corn provide more health benefits than canned corn, and it tastes better, too!.

Basically, there are two major types of corn – field corn and sweet corn.

Field corn is chiefly grown to be dried and used as animal feed. Many people eat field corn, too, by harvesting the ears when the corn is very young. Even then, however, it will be starchy and not nearly as flavorful as sweet corn.

Sweet corn is grown for human consumption and has a higher sugar content than field corn has. There are three categories of sweet corn – standard sweet corn, sugary enhanced sweet corn, and supersweet corn. A recent addition to the supersweet category is augmented supersweet corn.

Standard sweet corn

These include old heirloom varieties of sweet corn. As soon as this type of corn is harvested, the sugar in the corn begins to turn to starch. As a result, the ears need to be eaten or processed immediately after being picked.

Varieties of standard sweet corn:

Honey and cream is sweet and tender, with yellow and white kernels.

Jubilee is a yellow corn with large ears. It’s sweet and tender when harvested at the proper stage and is excellent for canning.

Butter and sugar is an attractive corn with a mixture of yellow and white kernels. The ears are about eight inches long.

NK-199 is a sweet yellow corn that’s very easy to silk. The ears are thick and heavy.

Silver queen is a wonderful sweet corn, with large ears, white kernels, and a very sweet flavor. It’s long been a favorite in the South. Silver queen retains its flavor longer than most other varieties of standard sweet corn.

Sugary enhanced corn

Sugary enhanced varieties are hybrids that have been bred to retain their flavor for up to three days after being picked. Most have a smooth, buttery texture. Their sugars don’t turn starchy as quickly as most standard sweet corn varieties.

Sugary enhanced varieties:

Kandy Korn is a yellow corn that’s sweet and tender. It’s an excellent choice for freezing.

Merlin is a sweet yellow corn with a wonderful taste and large ears.

Concord is a sweet, tender corn with both yellow and white kernels.

Incredible is a sweet yellow corn with big, flavorful ears.

Miracle is a sweet yellow corn with tender kernels. The large ears hold their flavor for several days.

Pristine is a sweet yellow corn that has an unsurpassed flavor.

Seneca dawn is a bi-colored sweet corn with an excellent taste.

How sweet it is has ears that grow to eight inches. The white kernels are sweet, crisp, and tender.

Snowbelle is a sweet white corn that has a very creamy texture and small ears.

Sugar snow is a white corn that’s extremely sweet.

Supersweet corn

Another hybrid, supersweet corn is the sweetest of all corn varieties, but its texture is not as creamy as other types. Supersweet corn has up to ten times the sugar content of standard sweet corn and holds its flavor and sweetness for two to three days after being harvested. Because it’s somewhat difficult to grow, supersweet corn is often more expensive than other types of sweet corn.

Supersweet varieties:

Sweetie is a yellow corn with sweet, tender, crisp kernels. Amazingly, this corn has one-third fewer calories than most other varieties.

Showcase is a yellow sweet corn that has a wonderful flavor and large ears.

Super-sweet jubilee is a very sweet yellow corn.

Aspen is a white corn with large ears and excellent flavor.

Early xtra sweet is a yellow corn with small, tender ears.

Dazzle has a creamy texture and yellow and white kernels.

Illini xtra sweet is a yellow corn with a very sweet flavor. It’s a good choice for freezing.

Camelot is a very sweet white corn that holds its flavor for several days.

Augmented supersweet

These varieties are very sweet and also very tender. As a result, the ears are easily bruised and must be handled with care.

Yellow augmented supersweet varieties:

Mirai 130y

Mirai 131y

Xtra-tender 173a


White augmented supersweet varieties:

Marai 421

Xtra-tender 372a



Bicolor augmented supersweet varieties:

Mirai 308bc





Xtra-tender 272a

Xtra-tender 274a

How to buy sweet corn

Sweet corn can be purchased by the ear at grocery stores and farmers’ markets. The problem is that you can never be sure when the corn was harvested. The best way to get sweet corn is to pick it yourself at a pick-your-own produce farm.

Immature corn will have blond tassels, and mature ears will have dark brown tassels. Choose ears that have dark tassels from end to base. Peek into the husks to see if the kernels are completely filled out. The kernels should spurt a milky fluid when pressed with a fingernail. Break the ear down from the stalk and pull up to separate the ear from the stalk.

From my experience growing and pulling corn, early morning is the best time to pick the ears. The moisture content is higher then, so the corn is more tender and juicy.

How to store sweet corn

As I’ve already explained, the key to good corn is getting it quickly from the garden to the table. If this isn’t possible, store the ears in a plastic bag with holes punched in it. Remove the outermost layer of shucks, but leave the rest on until the ears are ready to cook.

If you want to store your corn for longer periods, freeze it. If you have a lot of freezer space, you might want to freeze it on the cob. There’s a really simple way to do this, and it’s the method we always use for frozen corn-on-the-cob: remove the outer two or three layers of shucks and cut off both ends of each ear. Place in a large plastic bag and freeze. When you’re ready to eat corn-on-the-cob, just take out the number of ears you need, remove the remainder of the shucks, and run under warm water to remove the silks. Your corn is ready for the pot or the grill. Corn-on-the-cob will keep for four or five months this way.

If you want to keep your corn-on-the-cob for longer periods, you need to blanch it first. To do this, remove all the shucks and silks. Cut out any bad spots, then boil the corn for nine minutes. Plunge ears immediately into ice water and leave for nine minutes. Place ears in gallon freezer bags, removing as much air as possible. Place bags in the freezer, but don’t stack them until the corn is completely frozen.

If freezer space is limited, you can remove the kernels from the cob. First, remove all the shucks, silks, and any bad spots from the ears. Place the ears in a large pot and cover with hot water. Cook on high heat and bring to a boil. Once the water is boiling, cook for five minutes. Immediately place ears in ice water and leave for five minutes. Starting from the narrow end of the ear, use a sharp knife to remove the kernels from the cob. Don’t cut all the way to the cob – cut about 2/3 the way down the kernels. Place the niblets in a bowl. Measure the amount you’ll need for each meal and place the niblets in freezer bags, removing the air. Spread the bags out in the freezer so that they’ll lie flat. Once frozen, the bags can be stacked on top of each other.

Another way to preserve corn is to cream it. This is best done with a corn creamer or scraper. I always scrape the corn into a large metal roaster. Fill the roaster about 2/3 full and stir in about two cups of water. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 45 minutess, stirring occasionally. Remove pan from oven and allow to cool at room temperature. When corn has cooled, spoon into freezer boxes or freezer bags.

For more information about harvesting corn, see the video below.

For some great corn recipes, click the links below the video.

How to pick corn


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