Buying Specialty Corns

Like most fruits and vegetables, there are hundreds of varieties of corn, each with its own peculiarities and nuances. However, I’ll bet that unlike apples or tomatoes, your local grocery store doesn’t carry several varieties. In fact, for most varieties of corn, you’ll have to grow it if you want to eat it.

What follows is not a list of all corns known, but instead specific varieties I’ve been able to source on the Internet. (Most generalized hominy or heirlooms corns, such as “white hominy corn” or “yellow cornmeal” are not included.) Some are from seed companies, where a pound may run $25 or more. Some, though, are more economical. Most of those listed under cornmeal are already ground, and to date, none indicate they were nixtamalized.

This list is by no means exhaustive; instead, it is a work in progress, not simply because farmers and gardeners are experimenting with new (and old!) varieties everyday, but because both professional and domestic chefs are also experimenting, finding new and fascinating uses for many of these corns.

Of course, if you know of any that can be sourced online that are missing from this list, please let me know and I’ll add them below!

From Matthieu Bonafus's monograph dedicated to maize, 1836.

From Matthieu Bonafous’s monograph dedicated to maize, 1836.

Hominy:

Amish Butter: A pop that is perhaps more commonly known as Pennsylvania Dutch Butter. A versatile maize that Anthony Boutard that comes highly recommended not only a great popcorn, but also a great cornmeal and hominy.

Cacahuazintle: A white, heirloom, Mexican dent corn commonly used to make both masa and posole. This is the not only the variety that most canned hominy is made from, but also the one you’ll most likely find in your neighborhood tienda.

Floriani Red Flint: While this is an Italian variety of flint selected over may generations for polenta, it also holds up well to alkaline cooking and produces a nice, creamy hominy.

Henry Moore Yellow Hominy Corn: Anson Mills takes great care with this hominy corn. According to their website, Henry Moore is an authentic South Carolina-grown hominy corn, with a 150 year pedigree. They attribute the characteristic flavor of this maize to their particular drying process: “before harvesting, we let the corn dry on the stalks in the field, and then crib it up for a time thereafter so winter drafts can perform their final subtle drying, kernel by kernel.”

Lady Fingers: Like Amish Butter, this is a popcorn, but is reputed to make a nice hominy as well.

Roy Calais’s Flint: This is perhaps THE heirloom flint maize of the Eastern Woodlands grown by farmers and gardeners alike. While many other varieties of flint have been lost to time, this particular ancestor of an Eastern Woodland historic flint corn was maintained by Roy and Ruth Fair of Calais, Vermont (hence the name).

Popcorn: there are numerous varieties of specialty popcorns available for purchase through various vendors. This is just a partial list, with links to some prolific vendors, for different varieties of pops. Likely, most also make fine hominy as well.

Japanese Hulless White: This is one of the three standard commercial varieties of pop consumed in the United States.

Pink Blossom: Like most colored pops, this one also pops white. However, the kernels are a lovely pink before cooking.

Shaman Blue: This also makes an excellent corn flour if you’re interested in milling it.

Tom Thumb: Anthony Boutard has this to say about Tom Thumb: “The flavor is good when popped, and the ears are nicely proportioned miniatures for ornamental purposes” (Boutard 2012:59).

Corn Meals and Flours:

Andean Purple: The name is more of a description than a formal variety, but this is how many of the deep blue/purple corns from South America are currently billed. This is a large kernel makes a lovely, if not chewy, hominy. Not may favorite for making cornmeal either, but it does make a fine pot of grits/corn porridge.

Bloody Butcher: A deep red dent corn that makes a lovely flour or meal.

Mandan Red Clay: a “strikingly beautiful and delicious flour/parching corn,” which apparently makes a lovely pink cornmeal.

Oaxacan Green: A dent corn, notorious for the beautiful emerald green kernels. Makes a light green cornbread, perfect for St. Patrick’s Day!

Painted Mountain: This is a twentieth century variety developed by David Christiansen from a cross of over 70 native corns. The marvel of this corn is that it has been adapted for rugged, cold climes, and is now successfully grown from Siberia to South Africa. Apparently, it’s also great for making corn meal.

Rhode Island White Flint: Like Roy Calais’s Flint, Rhode Island White is also a New England heirloom variety. This particular variant is reputed to have a nutty flavor, which makes a pleasant cornmeal.

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