Sometimes, we get so used to seeing a particular fruit or vegetable in the store it feels like they are always in season. That is the case with corn. No matter what time of year we need it, we can always find it. Whether that’s out of the freezer aisle or in a can. But nothing can top the flavor and sweetness of fresh corn straight off the cob. So, how do you know when and where you can snag such a treat? By reading below! We’ve gathered information on the peak growing season in some of the largest corn-growing states in the nation. And after you know where to find the freshest corn possible, we’ll explore some tasty ways to enjoy it.
Where Does Corn Grow?
Corn enthusiasts probably already know this flavorful vegetable grows throughout the United States. However, the bulk of corn used for feed, fuel, and food gets grown in the Heartland. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Iowa and Illinois produce approximately a third of the entire U.S. crop.
The nation’s top corn producer grows nearly 130 billion pounds annually, with yields changing based on yearly weather patterns. However, most of that is field corn, not sweet corn (what you find in grocery stores). Iowa sees so much success growing corn for several reasons. The state has incredibly rich soil, receives a lot of rain, and has an extended growing season.
The harvest window in Iowa varies based on weather patterns for the year and which hybrid is grown on a particular farm. Each corn variety has a slightly different maturity window. In general, Iowa farmers start harvesting their corn between mid-September and October.
Since corn plays such a large role in the state, there are many celebrations to kick off the harvest season. So next time you are in Iowa in the fall, pop by one of the numerous corn festivals!
Illinois is the second largest contributor to overall national corn production and roughly sixth in the nation for sweet corn. The latter has a much longer season, thankfully. You can get sweet corn from Illinois farms starting and June. The harvest season will typically last until October. So that’s ample time to enjoy your favorite vegetable!
State residents love celebrating the corn harvest every year. There are multiple corn festivals throughout the fall. Some are one-day events, and others are a weekend full of festivities.
In Nebraska, most acres are dedicated to corn grow field corn rather than sweet corn. And they do grow a lot! According to the Nebraska Corn Board, roughly 1.46 billion bushels got harvested in 2022. The harvest window is different depending on whether the crop is field corn or sweet corn. The latter has an early peak harvest window. It is ready to hit store shelves beginning around June or July. The harvest will last until early to mid-fall.
However, field corn has a later harvest window. Nebraska farmers start to harvest their yields in September and October. Sometimes they work into November. The state rings in the harvest season with multiple corn-themed festivals.
Minnesota is well-known for its tasty sweet corn harvest. And, thankfully, the peak harvest window is fairly long. You can expect to enjoy Minnesota sweet corn from mid-July until late September.
The state does have multiple corn festivals annually to let residents and visitors kick off the season in style. However, the best part about corn season in Minnesota is the ability to pick your own! The state has many “u” pick farms with fields of corn for visitors to enjoy.
Other Growing Regions
While we highlighted some of the top corn producers in the nation, it is also important to note that the majority of states actually have significant corn harvests. Indiana, South Dakota, Ohio, Wisconsin, Kansas, and Missouri round out the top 10 overall producers. Many of these states focus heavily on field corn, though.
On the other hand, some unexpected states produce a large portion of the corn that hits consumers’ plates. Florida, Georgia, Washington, California, Oregon, and Colorado are all surprising contributors to the sweet corn market.
In these latter states, you can find their delicious harvest on grocery store shelves, farmer’s markets, and fairs. The peak season runs from mid-summer (mid to late June) through the fall (September to October).
A Brief History of Corn
But why is there such a big focus on growing corn? That agricultural land could surely get used for other produce, right?
The answer to, we need to take a brief look at corn’s rich history.
It is difficult to pinpoint exactly when corn became a staple food item. However, the evidence suggests it dates back roughly 7000 years. Scientists believe a people group in Mexico cultivated corn from a wild grass named Teosinte. Eventually, corn (or maize) started to spread throughout the Americas.
Corn quickly became a staple food for many indigenous cultures. Each one worked on further cultivating different varieties to suit their taste preferences and growing regions. While many of these varieties got used for things like stews, tortillas, and bread, others got selected for their sweet flavor.
The first recorded instance of sweet corn (which is mostly what gets eaten today) was in 1779. It became an instant favorite in North America and became the direct ancestor of the sweet corn we know and love today.
What Are the Health Benefits of Corn?
One of the primary health benefits of corn is its insoluble fiber. It helps to prevent undesirable blood sugar spikes since it gets digested more slowly. Corn also contains manganese, zinc, copper, magnesium, copper, a host of B vitamins, and iron.
However, those who need to watch their starch intake should go easy on this vegetable since it is high in carbohydrates.
How to Select and Eat Corn?
Choosing the right ear of corn is straightforward. Most grocery stores and farmer’s market booths will have trash cans next to the corn bin. You will want to open up enough of the outer husk to ensure the corn inside isn’t damaged (or missing). Sometimes corn cobs can get eaten by pests, or the kernels don’t grow properly. There is no good way to see that without checking first.
Additionally, corn doesn’t store long in the fridge. You’ll want to eat it fresh pretty quickly after your purchase. Or, consider stocking up during the peak season. You can parboil the ears and toss them in the freezer as is, or remove the kernels and freeze them in bags.
Once you’ve picked out the perfect ear(s) of corn, now what? There are a couple of tried and true ways to enjoy corn. One is to boil it for 2-3 minutes, then add corn and salt. Or you can throw it on the grill for a fantastic flavor punch.
However, you can also take a different route. Consider experiencing corn the way they do in the southwest and south of the border. You can make quick homemade corn tortillas. Or you can grill your corn and slather it with mayo, chili powder, and lime juice.
But don’t let those husks go to waste! Corn husks make the ideal wrap for tamales. They are a little time-consuming to make but well worth it.
Cornbread, corn muffins, sauteed corn, and corn soups are all delicious ways to enjoy this summer veggie!
The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/prayong kotjuk
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