Sweet Corn vs. Field Corn Plant: What’s the Difference?

Corn - Crop, Corn, Agricultural Field, Sweetcorn, Agriculture
© iStock.com/Kwangmoozaa

Written by Jeremiah Wright

Published: November 3, 2022

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Cereal grains are one of the most popular staple foods in the world, both for humans and animals. Indeed, some animals eat cereal too, but you should be cautious in feeding refined cereal to your dogs. The term ”cereal” refers to all cereal grasses in the Gramineae (also called Poaceae) family. According to sources, there are nine species under the cereal family: wheat (Triticum), rye (Secale), barley (Hordeum), oat (Avena), rice (Oryza), millet (Pennisetum), maize (Zea), sorghum (Sorghum), and triticale, which is a mix between wheat and rye.

Maize is one of the most abundantly produced cereals in the world. It originated from Mexico, but sources say North America grows the largest percentage (43%) of the world’s maize crop today. Several types of maize are produced according to their uses: dent corn, flint corn, pod corn, popcorn, flour corn, and sweet corn, and each has many variations.

In North America, maize is commonly referred to as field corn. It is grown to feed cows, sheep, goats, chickens, and other livestock. It is also used to process food products. On the other hand, sweet corn is modified corn produced primarily for human consumption. 

There are several differences between field corn and sweet corn, but since there are many field corn varieties, it will be challenging to compare them all to sweet corn. So we’ve decided to focus primarily on dent corn, a field corn variety. In short, it’s essential to remember that when we mention field corn in this article, we’re referring to the dent corn variation. Zea mays var. indentata, also known as dent corn, is only one variety of field corn among many. On the other hand, the scientific name for sweet corn is Zea mays convar. saccharata var. rugosa. Here are the main differences between them.

Comparing Sweet Corn vs. Field Corn Plant

Sweet corn and field corn are different types of maize produced for different uses.
Sweet CornField Corn (Dent Corn)
ClassificationKingdom: Plantae
Division: Tracheophyta
Subdivision: Spermatophytina
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Poales
Family: Poaceae (formerly Gramineae)
Genus: Zea
Species: Zea mays
Variety: Zea mays convar. saccharata var. rugosa
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Tracheophyta
Subdivision: Spermatophytina
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Poales
Family: Poaceae (formerly Gramineae)
Genus: Zea
Species: Zea mays
Variety: Zea mays var. indentata
Plant TypeAnnualAnnual
SizeAverage Height: About 6½ ft (2m)Average Height: 6 to 10 feet

The Key Differences Between Sweet Corn vs. Field Corn 

The key difference between sweet corn vs. field corn (dent corn) is their kernels. Sweet corn has sweeter, softer kernels and longer shelf life. Field corn has starchy kernels with hard outer skins, making it unsuitable for direct food consumption. Here are three key differences between sweet corn vs. field corn plants.

Sweet Corn vs. Field Corn: Kernels

Array sort dent corn (Zea mays indentata)
Zea mays var. indentata

(dent corn) is a type of field corn used to feed livestock due to its high starch content.


Dent corn, scientifically named Zea mays var. indentata, is a type of field corn used to feed livestock due to its high starch content. Each dent corn kernel has hard starch on the outside and soft starch on the inside. It is called dent corn because the soft part of the kernel collapses when dried, creating a small dent on the top of its kernels. 

According to records, sweet corn is a corn mutation. This gene mutation causes the seed endosperm to store more sugar. One concern of growers with sweet corn is that it does not retain its sweet taste when they are stored for a long time. Once harvested, the corn’s sugar content converts into starch, causing it to lose its sweetness. Nowadays, there are hundreds of sweet corn types available. The following three are some of the new mutants that have been used to improve the quality of eating sweet corn.

  • Standard sweet corn (SU). These sweet corns were the first type of sweet corn discovered in the 18th century. These types of sweet corn have starch and sugar in them.
  • Sugary-enhanced (SE) corn. These varieties are also called Everlasting Heritage (EH). They are perfect for local consumption because they remain sweet for up to four days if refrigerated.
  • Supersweet corn or shrunken 2 (sh-2). It was named shrunken because its seeds shrink once dried. This variation is two to three times sweeter than the first two variations. The sweetness remains up to ten days after harvest because the rate of conversion of its sugar into starch is insignificant. Thanks to this, supersweet corn is used for long-distance markets.

Field corn kernels are harder, contain more starch, and have small indentations. Sweet corn kernels are sweeter and contain less starch. Some sweet corn variations develop little to no starch and are full of sugar, making them two to three times sweeter.

Sweet Corn vs. Field Corn Plant: Harvest

According to sources, sweet corn is usually harvested during its milky stage when it is still immature. To determine this, a farmer would use his thumbnail to puncture a kernel. Clear liquid means the corn is not yet ready to be harvested. The best time to harvest it is if the juice is milky and sweet. It is already too late to harvest if there’s no sap. Sweet corn can be eaten from the cob or boiled.

Sources say field corn is harvested when it’s dry and mature, so it can be stored and transported. Because the sugar content converts to starch quickly, they are too hard to eat and not sweet. Before they can be converted to other food products, they must first be processed in a mill.

Sweet Corn vs. Field Corn Plant: Uses

Full frame of corn cereal.

Sweet corn is a highly nutritious food, high in carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

©iStock.com/prayong kotjuk

Maize was initially produced for animal feed, while sweet corn was mutated through selective breeding for human consumption. Sweet corn is a favorite staple food not only in the US but all over the world. One of the reasons is that you can add it to salads, soups, pizza toppings, and desserts. Sweet corn is a highly nutritious food, high in carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. If you are planning to eat corn daily, you must consume it in moderation. The carbohydrates that come from corn are mostly starch which may cause your blood sugar levels to spike. But don’t worry! Corn also contains enough fiber that helps balance your blood sugar levels.

Field corn (dent corn) is primarily used to feed livestock animals. However, it is used in other parts of the food industry. It is often used as a base ingredient for corn chips, taco shells, and tortillas. Dent corn starch is sometimes turned into plastics.

Studies show field corn or dent corn is North America’s most common sugar substrate. The sweetener produced from starch is found in many products. Sweeteners are used to preserve food, modify the texture, or add flavor and color.

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About the Author

I hold seven years of professional experience in the content world, focusing on nature, and wildlife. Asides from writing, I enjoy surfing the internet and listening to music.

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