Corn on the cob
Photo by Patrick Foto/Shutterstock.com

Our guide to picking the sweetest corn this season

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Everything is better with a side of corn on the cob. And, come corn season (July through October), it’s plentiful at roadside stands and farmers’ markets. So, take advantage, and get the cobs while they’re in top form. 

Ripe corn has dark-green husks but no brown edges. The silks poking out the top should be stiff and moist. Brown silks are okay—silks start out white and turn brown as the corn ripens. On the other hand, “If the bottom of the cob, where it’s broken off the stalk, is very dark, that’s a bad sign,” says Brian Johnstone of Johnstone’s Sweet Corn in Coldwater, Ont. Run your hands along the cob, from bottom to top; the cob should feel smooth, tapered, and firm. “A heavier cob is better,” says Ian Sparkes of The Sparkes Corn Barn in Chilliwack, BC. A light cob with bumps and dents that you can feel through the husk suggests poor pollination—and that means fewer kernels of corn. Rip-off!

Don’t peel the husk back to check a cob—this dries it out. “The husks are there for a reason,” says Johnstone. Plus, if you reject that cob, “It’s like taking a bite out of an apple and then putting it back. Would you buy that apple?”

Store corn in the fridge. Or, better yet, eat it as soon as possible. “The minute you pick a cob of corn, the sugar starts to break down into starch,” says Sparkes. And though sweet-corn varieties these days are bred to stay sweet longer post-harvest, corn is still best when fresh. “There’s a saying: ‘Put the pot of water on to boil, and go get the corn.’”

Sweet corn

Sweet corn appeared after a natural gene mutation of field corn; the kernels contain twice as much sugar. Uses: Scarfing straight off the cob. Obviously.

Baby corn

Very young ears of sweet or field corn, picked before fertilization and before sugar starts to accumulate in the kernels. Uses: In stir-fries, salads, and the party scene in Big.

Popcorn

Popcorn kernels have thicker hulls—the outer shells—than other types of corn. Under heat, pressure builds up inside the kernels until they burst. Uses: Popping—it’s the only corn bred to have kernels that explode—then eating. (Also: making old-timey Christmas tree garlands and throwing at people in movie theatres.)

Ornamental corn

A.k.a. flint corn or Indian corn. Multicoloured kernels, harvested when the husk is dry. Uses: Decor. Or eating, if you really wanted to. “It’s not going to hurt you,” says Ian Sparkes. “But it won’t taste very good.”—

A.k.a. flint corn or Indian corn. Multicoloured kernels, harvested when the husk is dry. Uses Decor. Or eating, if you really wanted to. “It’s not going to hurt you,” says Ian Sparkes. “But it won’t taste very good.”—