If we say “sweet corn” you’ll probably get a fairly strong mental image right away: bright yellow kernels, possibly clinging tight to a cob, possibly scattered liberally throughout a salad.
But if we say “maize,” what comes to mind? A field of corn? A field of something else? Or maybe you have no idea at all.
In this post we’ll be tackling the age-old question: what is the difference between maize and corn?
Presumably you found your way here by asking this question, so hopefully the knowledge we’re about to impart is useful. And if you found your way here by other means, stick around! You may be amazed at what you learn.
Yes, the terms maize and corn are generally used to refer to the same plant, Latin name zea mays. Maize (the most common term for the crop in the UK) is a cereal grain and is part of the Poaceae family of plants.
This is an incredibly versatile crop that humans use for everything from food to plastic production (there’ll be more on the various uses for this plant later on). Confusion around terminology stems from the fact that they’re used differently between different dialects of English.
When you have a plant as widespread and tightly woven around human history as corn, it’s inevitable that there’ll be some variations in the names used in different places. The main reason people ask about the differences between these two terms is the different ways they’re used around the world.
In North American English, for example, corn refers to the yellow kernels, the cob, and the whole plant. You’ll see high fructose corn syrup in pretty much every American ingredients list, whereas in the UK this would traditionally be thought of as maize syrup.
In the UK nowadays corn most commonly refers to the kernels, the cob, and other food-based uses for the plant. Maize refers to the crop that grows in fields, and is also used in more technical situations (scientific research and other formal settings for example).
Then, just to confuse things even further, the historic use of the word corn in Europe meant something different altogether! In centuries past, corn would’ve been used to refer to the dominant crop in a region, whether that were wheat, rye, oats, or similar. The exact reference would vary depending on the region, but thankfully this usage has fallen out of favour over time.
Here’s where things get really interesting. While it’s not hard to think of recipes that contain corn, did you know that this crop is used for everything from the production of chemicals, to feed for livestock, to bio-fuels?
First let’s take a look at the food uses. Corn on the cob is perhaps the most memorable corn format: a perfectly proportioned morsel with row upon row of sweet, golden kernels ready to be slathered in butter and munched to your heart’s content.
Strip the kernels and you have what most people would call sweet corn. A voluminous quantity of the bright yellow fruits that you can buy tinned or frozen and use in pretty much anything. A little extra crunch in your salad? Go for it. An enhancement to a shepherd’s pie recipe? You know it is. Something to add to your plate of sweet shaved ice? In certain Asian countries, the answer here would be yes too!
Then you’ve got all the hidden uses of the maize crop: cornmeal, corn starch, corn syrup, grain alcohol, and so many others. These uses are why corn is one of the most ubiquitous foods in the world.
Move beyond food, though, and maize still comes in useful in a lot of ways. Starch derived from the crop is used in the productions of many types of fabrics and plastics, as well as adhesives and other chemical solutions.
If you’re into eco-friendly tech, you can also power your car or heat your house with bio-fuels derived from maize. While this technology isn’t particularly widespread yet, you never know: maybe Elon Musk’s next venture will be a corn-powered car to rival his Tesla company.
Corn cobs are also frequently used as decorative objects in certain regions. Leave them out to dry and the kernels harden off, taking on deep hues that look great against a rustic backdrop.
And if you can believe it, we’ve barely scratched the surface here of how maize can be used.
Now you know the answers!
No doubt now any questions you had about maize and corn have been answered, and who knew the subject could be so interesting? This plant is inextricably linked to humanity, having been a staple crop around the world for millennia. It’s no wonder we’ve found thousands of ways to use corn and maize, from food and beyond, considering we’ve lived alongside it for so long.
Thanks for taking the time to read this blog post, and hopefully now you’ll be able to put your newfound knowledge to use. Possibly in a pub quiz one day, or by settling an argument at the dinner table about whether maize and corn are the same thing (hey, it could happen!)