From farm to fork: Growing, selecting, & cooking sweet corn

By Brandie Piper

Sweet corn is a summertime staple. It’s delicious no matter how it’s cooked, and sweet corn helps to contribute to a balanced meal. We’ve put together some tips about how to choose the best ear at your local grocery store or farmers’ market, as well as some popular cooking techniques. But first, we should probably explain the difference between field corn and sweet corn.


More than 99 percent of the corn you see while driving through the Midwest is field corn, which is different from sweet corn. Field corn is used for livestock feed, ethanol and ingredients in our food.

Field corn is usually pretty impressive to drive past, with stalks usually reaching 6-to-8-feet tall. Tractors (called combines) are specifically made to pick the corn, usually from July in the southern United States through November (and sometimes later) in the northern United States. Field corn is starchy with bright yellow kernels with small dents in them (most field corn is called No. 2 Yellow Dent). About 90 million acres of field corn are planted each year, mostly in the Midwest.

Sweet corn is typically a bit shorter, topping out at 4-to-5-feet tall. The kernels can be white, yellow or bi-color, and it’s hand-picked from April through August. The kernels are plumper, because the corn is picked at the peak of its maturity. Sweet corn is sweeter tasting than field corn, hence the name.


Sweet corn is usually still all wrapped up in its husk when you buy it, so it’s good to know what to look for to select the best ears. Some people pull back pieces of the husk to take a peek, but there are easier ways to determine if it’s fresh. Brooke Kisker, Seminis and De Ruiter communications manager, shared these tips:

  • Kernels: When you look for that great ear of corn, feel the cob; check the girth of the cob itself and the tip. A tip that has more girth means that ear of corn had enough time to mature and the sugars in the kernel have developed.
  • Husk: Check the husk of the ear. Older husks will start to brown and will have a more wrinkled texture.
  • Tip: Check to see if the ear of the tip is protected by the husk. The more protected the tip is by the leaves, the less likely an insect was able to get in and cause tip damage.
  • Tightness: Feel to see how tight the husk is to the cob. When the cob feels tight in the husk, it usually means the water content of the kernels is still high. This indicates that the sweet corn is fresh and was harvested recently.


Microwave: One of the easiest ways to cook sweet corn is to leave it in its husk and pop it in the microwave for four minutes. Pull it out, chop off one end and the husk and silk will slide right off.

Boiling: This method takes a little more time, but it’s just as delicious. Boil some water in a large pot, toss in the corn (with or without its husk), cover, and cook for about 10 minutes.

Grilling: Three methods to consider: Leave the ears in the husks and place directly on a hot grill. Cover the grill, and turn them occasionally, letting them cook for 15 to 20 minutes. Some people wrap the corn in aluminum foil and place on the grill. Others place the sweet corn, husk-free, directly on the grill.

No matter which method you use, sweet corn is a delicious and juicy summertime side to add to your meals!

Looking to cook a more elaborate dish with your carefully-selected corn? Try some of these!

Published June 11, 2015 on

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