Compiled by Jenkins & Winston. Hand Book, Experiment Station Work.
Among domestic animals, corn holds a place similar to that conferred on wheat by the human family. To them it seems to be the most palatable and is the strongest in fattening qualities of all the cereals. The reason for this liking may be that they find greater pleasure in eating the hard corn, which breaks up into little hard particles, and gives opportunity for much mastication. The wheat grain makes a sticky, unpleasant, doughy mass when crushed in the mouth. Chemical analysis shows that corn carries much nutrition. The market price is usually low. For these two reasons, corn is by far the cheapest food for man over much of the civilized world. Why is it not more generally used for food?
The composition of cornmeal is given in the preceding table. The following cut from New Jersey Bulletin No. 105, may- aid in fixing in the mind the relative amounts of protein, starch, mineral matter, oil, etc., contained in the whole grains of corn before milled.
a is the outer covering of the grain of corn, or bran. This consists of two layers and constitutes practically all the crude fiber of the grain.
b is a layer of gluten cells which lies next the bran. This is usually yellow in color.
c is the germ. This is rich in oil and mineral matter and contains some gluten.
d is composed largely of starch.
Kernel of Corn
Corn contains a smaller amount of proteid matter than wheat, and its gluten is of a very different quality. It is not possible to make so porous a loaf from cornmeal as from wheat flour. Corn bread is to most persons more palatable when hot than when cold. In wheat, the parts which affect the keeping qualities of the flour can be very completely separated out in the milling by removing the aleurone cells and the germ of the wheat. The germ is removed from the corn in the process of milling and this takes out most of the oil, the germ containing sixty-five per cent, of the fat contained in the entire grain. The remaining oil is so distributed as to be inseparable, and the meal does not long retain its most perfect flavor.
Young and growing children should not be fed too largely on corn products. These lack the mineral matter necessary to bone formation. They have not a sufficient amount of protein to build up the growing muscles. By elderly people and people of sedentary habits corn can be partaken of more freely with good results. Among the people of the rural districts of northern Italy, a disease known as "pel-legra" prevails. This disease is believed to be caused by the exclusive use of corn as a food by these people. The corn plant in Italy is not free from disease, as ours in this country is. Some claim that the sickness brought on from the use of corn as food is due in part to the presence of a fungi. Two authorities state "that Fua found aspergillus and penicillium fungi in the cornmeal which had caused pellagra, and was able to separate from it several poisonous substances, evidently decomposition products."
Corn is not so good a single food for man as wheat, nor for domestic animals as oats. But for either it is a very cheap and useful portion of the ration, especially if there are foods to use with it which have an abundance of protein and mineral nutrients. Man has done all in his power to so mill this product as to furnish it in the best form, with the best possible keeping qualities. Woman's part is to see that it is so cooked as to render its nutritive qualities most available for human needs. Man urges her to attend to this one thing which remains necessary to make corn form at least a part of our diet of every-day life.
A very large amount of corn is used each year in the manufacture of starch, glucose, beer, spirits, etc. Cornstarch is used to some extent for human food, and very largely for laundry purposes, and for sizing in the manufacture of cotton textiles and paper. The processes by which starch is manufactured from corn vary somewhat, but are essentially as follows: Mature corn is used for the purpose. The germ and hull are separated from the rest of the grain either by machinery or by soaking the grain in warm water, crushing into medium-sized particles, and separating by gravity. The hulls float, and the germs sink. The water flows on, carrying with it the starch and the gluten. The gluten is lighter than the starch, and thus the two are afterwards separated. The parts of the corn which cannot be utilized for either starch or glucose are called by-products, and are used for stock. They have a high feeding value. The refuse contains the protein, fat, and mineral matter of the corn grain. When hominy and other cereals are manufactured from corn, the skin and germ form practically the by-product, the proteid in this case being largely preserved as part of that designed for human food.
The green succulent ears of the varieties of sweet corn are very tempting, and judging from the great and increasing demand for the various forms of green corn, woman's skill is not lacking in preparing it for the table. Immense amounts pour into our cities during the summer for immediate consumption.
Green corn is brought north from the southern markets about the first of June. In the middle states a favorable season makes it ready for use about the middle of July. In the New England states it comes into the market about the first of August. A succession of crops keeps it procurable until the middle of October, or even later. In the use of this luxury, as in many other instances, farmers have a decided advantage over their city cousins. Green corn, to be at its best, should have attained the full size of its kernels. At this stage it is said to be never unwholesome. It soon deteriorates in flavor, and should always be eaten on the same day that it is picked. By the second day, it has lost much o"f its flavor, and is no doubt less wholesome, if not less digestible. Farmers usually raise a supply of sweet corn for home consumption, in addition to what is marketed, so that, both in amount and value, sweet corn forms an important item in farm produce. Sweet corn is very largely preserved, both by canning and drying. The work is so successfully done that much of the flavor of the fresh corn is preserved. This not only pleases the palate, but aids in preserving good health by answering one of the demands of nature for a variety of food during the long winter months. Sweet corn, as seen in the table, is somewhat richer in protein than the common field corn. It has less carbohydrates, but a greater amount of fat and protein. It owes its sweetness while ripening to glucose. This adds to its palatability, but in nutritive qualities it makes practically no difference, as sugars and starches have about the same food value.
Again referring to the table, we find that pop corn does not fall below field corn in any of the food elements. Unfortunately, pop corn has fallen into bad usage. If it were taken at meal time, the system might gain something from its nutritive qualities. When taken between meals, it can only be classed among those foods which, eaten in excess of what is needed, are worse than thrown away. Such practices are very injurious to health.
Why should not white men, representatives of a civil-ized race, teach the Indians how to use corn to better advantage as food, - this native plant, which their legends say is a gift from the Great Spirit? Why does the government continue to place a premium upon its misuse? Some years ago the following appeared in one of our western papers:
"Corn in Nebraska sells for twenty-five cents a bushel. This, distilled, makes four and one-half gallons of spirits. After being manipulated by the distilleries, this makes nine gallons of whiskey. This pays the United States government ninety cents a gallon, which is a revenue of eight dollars and ten cents from one bushel of corn."
They might have added, this practice takes every semblance of manhood from many an American citizen. It makes him a disgrace to his kind in this world, and leaves him without hope in the next.
If, as some claim, a better knowledge of how to select food and prepare it will help to abate this misery, let woman regard it not only a duty, but a pleasure, to gain all possible information on this subject, and not only this, but, having acquired that knowledge, let her be untiring in putting it into practice, and bringing it year by year to still greater perfection.
Corn is the basis of America's supremacy in pork, beef, and mutton, and does much to add to our fame as a dairying nation. American corn would add vitality to rice-eating China and India. American corn is best exported in the forms of juicy steaks, legs of mutton, sides of bacon, and tubs of golden butter; but while it is so cheap in America, it is extravagance not to use more of it on our tables. There are fewer persons who understand the secrets of corn cookery than there are of those who can handle wheat products successfully. Every mother and every cook should know how to make a variety of breads, pones, puddings, mushes, and cakes of this truly American food. Let us use it more, and our European visitors will carry home with them an acquired taste for it. Let wives give it to their husbands when hunger brings a good appetite, that they may learn to enjoy it. Let our schools teach of its use, since it is the most neglected cheap food in America.
Since corn is not an entire food, and is peculiar, when used in large quantities, because of engendering a heated or feverish condition of the body and producing fat, it has been wrongfully discredited. It is not adapted to the whole ration, but with vegetables, meats, and milk it is adapted to a larger place in the ration than it now occupies. As one-fourth of our food, cornmeal has no competitor in cheapness, and this is a most important consideration with our common people. Corn is produced throughout the west annually at twenty cents per bushel, or seven dollars per ton. Wheat costs nearly or quite three times as much per ton to produce, - sixty cents per bushel, being twenty dollars per ton.
Statistics show that wheat is only a little more valuable from either the standpoint of total nutrients or of protein compounds. Bread has won our hearts because of its dainty white loaves, and our theories and sentiments have rightly crowned wheat the queen of the cereals; but corn is king. The poor of the cities, the farmers and laboring classes everywhere, should be taught to use more of it. The great problem is how to cook it so that the flavor and appearance will make it attractive. This, accomplished among our home consumers, will save millions now spent for more expensive foods. Accomplish this in our export countries, and much will be done for our farmers who produce American corn. I know of no more emphatic statement with which to emphasize the main reason for the wider use of corn than that corn is too cheap to be adulterated.
Possibly, many of our people do not use corn because its cheapness causes it to be reckoned common, and adapted to those who cannot afford suitable food. Fashion often makes us foolish.