From July through late September, corn is king. You’ll find this fresh, sweet treat at every grocery store and farmers market, and on restaurant and home menus alike. That said, not all corn is created equal—and since you’re eating so much of the stuff, you might as well educate yourself a little on this prized summer vegetable (that’s also sometimes a grain). Indeed, there’s much to know and our guide to the main types of corn is a good place to start. Read on for a rundown, complete with chef-approved tips for how to use each type, and start shucking.
4 Types of Corn and How to Use Them
Meet the Expert
Chef Kasey Mills is the executive chef and owner of the Sesame Collective, one of the largest independent restaurant groups in Portland, Oregon, that operates the restaurants Mediterranean Exploration Company, Shalom Y’all, Lil’ Shalom, Bless Your Heart Burgers, Yalla, and Dolly Olive. Kasey has over 20 years of culinary experience and draws inspiration for his menus from both his world travels and exploration of his own garden.
- Common Varieties: Yellow Guinea Flint, Carl’s Glass Gem
- Best For: polenta, grits, hominy
Flint is one of the older and more diverse types of corn, with indigenous varieties grown all across North America. Mills tells us that this type of corn is typically milled due to the fact that it has very low water content, plus a layer of starch around the kernel that gives it an extraordinarily hard texture. Once milled, it’s often used for things like hominy, polenta and masa. As such, flint corn isn’t the most useful type to grow in your own garden, but it does yield plenty of corn-based products you find at the store and is often used for decorative purposes as well. (Fun fact: the colorful dried “Indian corn” you see around the holidays is flint.)
- Common Varieties: Blue Ridge White Capped, Jimmy Red, Cocke’s Prolific
- Best For: flour, coarse grits, livestock
Dent corn is a widely grown type of field corn, but like flint corn, it is hard and requires quite a bit of processing (i.e., drying and milling) before it can be used. In fact, it gets its name for the dented appearance of the kernels, which sink in the center—in contrast to the hardened starch on the sides—during the drying process. As a result of its hard texture, Mills says that dent corn is mostly used for feeding livestock, though it can also be milled and used for various corn flours or coarse grits.
- Common Varieties: Pennsylvania Dutch Butter Flavored, Japanese Hulless, White Rice
- Best For: popcorn
This variety of corn falls under the flint category, but not all flint corns have the unique characteristics required for optimal popping. As a type of corn, popcorn refers to specific varieties of flint that have a particularly “high degree of natural internal moisture that provides the perfect scenario when heated to explode and create popcorn,” explains Mills. Needless to say, the use for this type of corn is pretty straightforward: popping! It’s also worth noting that popcorn varieties can be grown in your own backyard, so you can reap the reward every time movie night rolls around.
- Common Varieties: Country Gentleman, Hawaiian Super Sweet
- Best For: corn on the cob, salads, pastas, casseroles, chowders
Last, but certainly not least, is sweet corn—the type of corn you’re most likely munching on all summer long. This warm weather staple is harvested when young, so the kernels are extra juicy and sweet. (The ideal time for harvesting is known as the “milk stage,” referring to the fact that milky white liquid will come out of a punctured kernel when the corn is at its sweetest.) Sweet corn is characterized by a high sugar content and flavorful kernels that don’t pop when heated. Mills uses it as a coating for fried ribs at her Mediterranean smokehouse, but for the less adventurous home cook, it’s excellent to eat on its own, mixed into pastas and salads (think: succotash), or cooked up in casseroles and chowders where its sweet flavor and creamy consistency really shine.
What is the Best Corn to Eat on the Cob?
The answer to this question should come as no surprise, given what you now know about the main types of corn and their uses. Indeed, the expert confirms that sweet corn is by far the best for corn on the cob (and the only kind you have ever eaten that way, even if you didn’t know it). Roger that.