Is corn a fruit or vegetable?
It depends on who you ask and how the corn is being looked at or used. There are a variety of ways to use corn as well that we’ll get into.
In this article, we’ll explore the history behind corn’s classification as a fruit or vegetable. We’ll also look at how corn has evolved over time and why it’s become such a versatile food source.
- Related article: Fruit vs Vegetable Guide
Is Corn a Fruit or Vegetable?
Believe it or not, corn is actually a fruit, vegetable, and a grain. Corn is used in the culinary world and eaten as a vegetable or grain. But for botanists, corn is a fruit, similar to zucchini, tomatoes, and squash.
Corn, also known as maize or Zea mays, is a member of the Poaceae family. Corn is a food staple for many populations globally and is found in casseroles, soups, breads, baked, as a snack, and as a side dish at main meals.
Single kernels may be considered grains, while an entire cob may be viewed as a vegetable, but for botanical purposes, corn is a fruit.
Why is Corn a Fruit?
Corn is classified as a fruit because it is a seed that is derived from the flower or ovary of the corn plant. So, for botanists, corn is technically a fruit, as are other grains like oats or wheat.
When classified as fruit, it even has a specific name. It is known as a caryopsis or grain that is a dry one-seeded fruit.
Fruit and vegetables are differentiated depending on the part of the plant that is eaten. If the edible part derives from the plant’s ovaries or reproductive tract or tissue, it will be a fruit. Other edible plant parts are considered vegetables.
Why Is Corn a Vegetable?
However, if we go by how people generally view corn, then yes, it would be a vegetable in the culinary sense because we use it primarily as a vegetable in our diets.
To further complicate matters, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) includes sweet corn in its list of vegetables. So, there are many valid, practical reasons why corn is considered a vegetable.
Corn is scientifically not a vegetable. For botanists, corn is strictly a fruit. The term “vegetable” used arbitrarily in general conversation has no specific basis in science, unless you apply the broader definition of a vegetable.
That indicates a vegetable as “any plant whose fruit, seeds, roots, tubers, bulbs, stems, leaves, or flower parts are used as food.” In this case, corn can also be viewed as a vegetable.
Learn whether Corn is Man-Made or Natural.
Why Is Corn a Grain?
Grain is defined as a single fruit or seed of a cereal, so, technically, corn is also a grain. Corn kernels, such as those used for popping popcorn, are viewed as whole grains because they maintain intact their three parts comprised of the germ, the bran, and the endosperm.
The heat will burst the hard seed coat to expose the white puffy endosperm. When you consume popcorn, you are consuming the “whole” grain.
Sweet corn, which is often consumed in salads or as a side dish, is harvested before the seed reaches maturity and before the natural sugars contained in the endosperm are converted into starch.
Corn is also dried and ground into meals to be used in numerous baked or cooked dishes. Milled corn or corn meal may only contain the endosperm, lacking all the fiber and nutrients that are provided by a whole kernel. Nonetheless, they are considered a grain even when used in a reduced form.
8 Different Uses for Corn
While corn is primarily thought of as food, including for livestock, poultry, and pigs, the uses of corn products in our lives are varied and many.
The bulk of U.S. corn crops are not used for food production, but are used in surprising ways in multiple industries. Here are several of the very important uses of this resilient plant.
1. Corn Is Used in Plastics
This may be a surprise, but not all plastics are entirely synthetic. Corn-based plastics and their uses have increased in popularity with awareness of environmental health and the negative impact that plastics have.
Plastics made with corn consume approximately 68% fewer fossil fuels for their production and emit 55% fewer greenhouse gases. Corn plastic is also biodegradable, so it’s eco-friendly.
2. Corn Is Used in Batteries
Corn is known for producing ethanol, but that’s not all this amazing plant can furnish. Corn derivatives are used in batteries, while cornstarch is used as an electrical conductor.
3. Corn Is Used in Cosmetic Hygiene Products
Cornstarch is a regular in the production of deodorants and often used in cosmetic products. It’s also found in toothpaste, detergent, and soap.
4. Corn Is Used in Health Products
Did you use any cough drops or throat lozenges the last time you had a cough? Chances are they contain corn syrup as opposed to traditional sugars.
If you have a baby still in diapers, you can thank corn for the absorbent layer within. These layers are generally produced with acrylic acid which comes from ethylene, a corn derivative. Baby powder will also contain cornstarch for its absorbent capabilities to keep those baby bottoms rash-free
Many vitamins and medications will feature corn products among their ingredients. Starch is often included as a binder and to help in disintegrating pills and tablets once they have been swallowed.
Cornstarch is ideal for use in pharmaceuticals because it’s natural, safe, and easily digested.
5. Corn Can Heat Your Home
For those that heat their home with a pellet stove, corn-based pellets are a good alternative for staying warm in cold weather.
6. Corn Is Used in Carpets
Corn is used in the production of textiles and carpets as an alternative to petroleum-based manufacturing because it is healthier for the environment.
7. Corn Is a Supplier of Vitamin C
Exceptionally rich in vitamin C, many vitamin C products distributed use a corn derivative. It is used both in vitamin C tablets and to enrich other supplement products.
8. Corn Sweetens Life
Cornstarch is found in yogurt and ice cream as a thickener for consistency, while corn syrup is used to sweeten numerous products from yogurt to candy to beverages, and more.
Candy also uses cornstarch, especially in gummies, to hold their shape. Corn derivatives are an important component in a vast selection of sweeteners.
Is Corn a Fruit or Vegetable? Final Thoughts
Corn is rare because it legitimately lays claim to being a fruit, a vegetable, and a grain. More importantly, apart from its fundamental role as food for humans and animals worldwide, it is proving to be increasingly useful in the global movement to render manufacturing more eco-friendly.
Learn more about other fruits and vegetables: