Whether you’re slathering it in butter or dipping it in popcorn, corn is one of the most popular foods in the world. However, sometimes it can get confusing when it comes to its classification and whether or not it should be considered a vegetable.
Firstly, whole corn, like the cobs you eat on the side, is classified as a vegetable. The kernels themselves (where popcorn comes from) are also considered a grain, but that’s where things get a little more complicated!
What Is Corn?
Corn (Zea mays) is a member of the grass family, Poaceae, and is a crop that originated in the Americas. It is grown in countless varieties and is one of the most popular cereal grains in the world.
It is a vegetable that is eaten along with meats and other dishes as part of a healthy diet. It is also used as livestock feed and in ethanol fuel.
The kernels of corn grow within a stalk that is surrounded by a leafy husk. This husk prevents small animals from eating and spreading the corn seeds.
When the ear is ready, the pollen tube grows up out of the top of the husk and travels to each ovule on the cob. Each ovule contains pollen that can attract a male gene to fertilize it and make a kernel.
This process repeats 400-600 times in a single corn ear. If all of those ovules are fertilized, the cob is full of kernels, and you get to enjoy the sweet, sticky, crunchy goodness of corn!
What Is a Vegetable?
A vegetable is an edible part of a plant that people regularly consume. Vegetables can be the leaves, stems, fruit, flower buds, roots or bulbs of plants.
Vegetables are generally classified on the basis of their culinary or cultural uses. Vegetables are often eaten as part of a savory meal or alongside a protein.
In contrast, fruits are typically consumed as a snack or dessert. Some fruits, such as tomatoes and avocados, are considered vegetables because they can be used to make a variety of foods.
Corn is a starchy vegetable that comes as kernels on a cob covered by a husk. It is a popular summertime staple that is also enjoyed popped, dried and ground into flour for tortillas and chips.
The kernels of corn are a vegetable and technically, they are a grain. However, corn’s classification as a vegetable is debatable.
What Is a Fruit?
A fruit is the mature ovary of a seed-bearing plant, which is usually developed from a flower. It furthers the plant’s reproductive cycle by storing and dispersing seeds.
It is also called a berry, drupe or pome. Typical fruits include bananas, grapes, and peaches.
There are also some plants that are commonly considered vegetables but which are actually fruits, such as tomatoes and olives.
Beans and peas are examples of the legume family, which is a group of plants that produce seeds in pods. Botanically, they are considered fruits because each pod contains a seed that the plant uses to reproduce.
Corn is a popular crop in the United States, and its kernels are treated as a grain in agriculture and a vegetable in the kitchen. But scientifically, those kernels are actually small dry fruits – a kind of caryopsis, or fruit wall (pericarp) connected to the seed coat inside.
What Is a Grain?
A grain is the edible seed of a plant, usually a grass. Grains include wheat, oats, rice, corn, barley, rye, sorghum and millet.
In the United States, grains have a long tradition of being staples of the diet and are an important part of cultural identity. They provide energy and protein, vitamins, minerals and disease-fighting phytochemicals.
Grain products include breads, pasta, breakfast cereals, grits and tortillas. They are also a source of fiber, B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and folate) and some minerals.
All whole grain kernels contain three separate layers — the bran, germ and endosperm — that provide complementary health benefits. The bran supplies fiber, which helps control appetite and regulates blood sugar, while the germ provides protein and essential nutrients like iron and B vitamins.
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