By Peter Thomison, Allen Geyer, Bruce Clevenger
What is “food grade” corn?
Food grade corn, also referred to as hard endosperm corn, is yellow or white dent corn with specific endosperm (starch) characteristics. Hard endosperm corn contains high amounts of hard or (horny) endosperm relative to the amount of floury endosperm. Hard endosperm is a characteristic that is important to dry milling and alkaline cookers. The goal of the dry mill process is to keep the horny endosperm in large pieces and to remove the germ and pericarp to yield a low-fat low-fiber product. If the kernels are significantly soft or broken, there is less opportunity for millers to produce large grits. Product composition and color, as well as process stability, can also be affected by hardness and breakage. Other “food” corns directly consumed or widely used in food products include sweet corn and popcorn. However, these are not dent corns.
Where is food grade corn grown?
According to U.S. Grain Council (USGC) information from 2005, yellow food grade corn production is scattered throughout the Midwest and South. The highest concentrations are in Illinois, western and southern Indiana, central Ohio, northwest Missouri, southwest Iowa, southeast Nebraska and west central Nebraska. Major areas of white corn production are eastern Illinois, southwest Indiana, western Kentucky, western Tennessee, Nebraska, Texas, southwest Iowa and northwest Missouri. There is some production in Ohio, California, Pennsylvania, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina.
What food products is hard endosperm corn used for? What’s in my corn puffs cereal?
Hard endosperm corn is used in alkaline cooking processes for making masa, tortilla chips, tostadas, taco shells, snack foods, and grits. Flaking grits derived from hard endosperm corn are used for corn flakes, corn meal and corn flour. Brewer grits are used for the production of beer and corn meal and corn flour for corn bread, corn muffins, pancakes and waffles. Uses of white food grade corn are similar. White food corn is typically grown under contract and sold to dry-mill processors or used in alkaline cooking processes for making masa, tortilla chips, snack foods, and grits. One of the export markets for white corn is for starch. White food grade corn has limited wet milling use for food grade starch. Paper uses also exist for white corn.
When is #2 yellow dent corn used for human consumption?
#2 yellow corn is widely used in snack food and cereal production. Past USGC surveys indicates that hard endosperm corn has greater test weight than #2 yellow corn, slightly lower broken corn and foreign material, lower amounts of stress cracks and lower percent thins than #2 yellow corn. Similarly, surveys of white corn quality indicate it was higher in test weight and density than #2 yellow corn and slightly lower in stress cracks, and lower in percent thins. Most corn oil, corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup directly consumed or widely used in food products are derived from #2 or other grades of yellow dent corn – not specifically from food grade/hard endosperm hybrids.
How many acres of food grade corn is grown in the U.S.?
According to a USGC survey conducted about 10 years ago, yellow food grade corn acreage ranges from 1.0 to 1.5 million acres and white corn acreage ranges from 600,000 and 700,000 acres. Determining annual production of food grade corn is difficult because most food grade corn used for dry milling and snack foods is grown under contract.
Does food grade corn contain transgenic (GMO) traits? Can food grade corns be used in organic crop production?
Hard endosperm/food grade hybrids are typically conventional hybrids with high yield potential. Usually yields of hard endosperm/food grade corn are comparable to those of hybrids without food grade characteristics. According to the USGC, although some food grade products contain transgenic traits such as Roundup Ready®, Liberty Link®, and Bt, the resistance to biotechnology continues to persist and create a market for non-GMO products. Food grade corn hybrids are not consistently associated with non-GMO hybrids. Several seed companies market several versions of their corn hybrids with and without transgenic traits. Some non-transgenic hybrids have demonstrated high yield potential in the OSU corn performance tests but they are not always hybrids with desirable food grade characteristics. There are also transgenic white corn hybrids available with and without Bt and herbicide resistance traits.