Corn is the number one crop produced in the United States – there’s a good chance you ate or drank something today that had some sort of corn-based ingredient in it!
This popular crop fits the bill as a fruit, vegetable, AND a grain – which might not make sense at first. We’ll explain how corn can meet all of these criteria in this article, so rest assured that your questions will be answered!
Is corn a fruit?
You’d probably be quick to answer “no” to this question, but prepare to be surprised – botanists classify corn as fruit! Corn is produced from the flower or the ovary of the corn plant, which is one of the definitions of fruit. That means that each kernel of corn is technically a little fruit with a seed in it, and if you were to plant that seed underground (in the right conditions) you could grow more corn! The same is true for other fruit like apples, avocados, and raspberries.
Corn is most definitely not considered a fruit in all other senses though, including in the culinary sense (the way it’s most commonly used in cooking and for eating), which is the way most of us think of fruits and vegetables. After all, you wouldn’t put corn in a fruit salad, would you?
Other “vegetables” that are botanically considered fruits include tomatoes, green peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, and many other types of squash such as pumpkin.
Does corn fit the vegetable bill as well?
So corn is botanically considered a fruit and is considered a vegetable in a culinary sense – but does it meet the criteria for being an actual vegetable?
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, fresh corn is considered a vegetable. (Dried corn is in another category, which we’ll cover next.) Fresh corn eaten as corn on the cob or shucked corn kernels (fresh, frozen, and canned) is classified as a starchy vegetable.
All vegetables contain carbohydrates in the form of starch, fiber, and natural sugars. Starchy vegetables are those that contain more starch (and therefore more carbohydrates) than other vegetables which are considered non-starchy. (Starch is a common component of plant-based foods like grains and legumes.)
For instance, one cup of corn kernels contains 27 grams of carbohydrates while one cup of chopped carrots (a non-starchy vegetable) contains 12 grams of carbohydrates – corn is higher in carbohydrates because it is higher in starch!
…isn’t corn also considered a grain?
Corn is also considered a grain when it’s harvested and dried when it’s fully mature. From there, corn is milled and can be turned into cornmeal, corn flour, and cornstarch to make things like tortillas, cornbread, breading, and more.
Popcorn kernels are also considered a grain. In fact, popcorn is considered a whole grain because it contains all three parts of the grain – the germ, the endosperm, and the bran. Whole grains are considered more nutrient-dense than refined grains because they are higher in fiber, protein, and other nutrients.
Corn can be processed into other ingredients (including sweeteners like corn syrup/high fructose corn syrup) and is a common additive in muffins, baked goods, cereal, and countless others. Corn is the most prevalent grain used in both human and animal feed in the United States, so it makes sense that you’ll see corn listed as an ingredient in many prepared and processed foods.
Is corn a gluten-free grain?
Corn is a popular option for gluten-free dieters and manufacturers of gluten-free products because it doesn’t contain gluten. (Gluten is a protein in wheat, rye, and barley that some people don’t tolerate or may be allergic to).
You should be aware that even though corn itself is gluten-free, it might be combined with ingredients that contain gluten, which wouldn’t make the product gluten-free. For instance, Krusteaz Honey Cornbread mix contains wheat flour, which contains gluten.
Corn nutrition facts
Stats are for one cup of yellow corn kernels – per USDA
|Calories||Total fat||Total carbohydrates||Total sugars||Dietary fiber||Protein|
|125||2 g||27 g||9 g||2.9 g||4.7 g|
Certain types of corn are whole grain, but others are refined to strip parts of the corn kernel away. An example of a refined corn product is corn starch, which only contains the endosperm of the corn kernel, while an example of whole grain corn is cornmeal which contains whole dried and crushed corn kernels.
Cornstarch is vegan because it isn’t derived from animal products!