Did you know that the sweet corn you eat this summer most likely has direct ties to the University of Illinois?
John R. Laughnan, a University of Illinois professor of botany and plant genetics, discovered supersweet corn in 1953. He discovered that the kernels of a mutant of corn were "unusually sweet and have a pleasant malty flavor." Unfortunately, the sweet corn breeders of the day were not equally enthusiastic about this new type of "supersweet" corn.
Additionally, the University of Illinois would not support his discovery, so Laughnan developed sweet corn hybrids on his land at his own expense. He later developed the "Illini Super Sweet" hybrid, which he gave to Illinois Foundation Seeds Inc. in 1960.
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, A.M. "Dusty" Rhodes, a University of Illinois professor of horticulture, discovered a trait in corn that gave corn twice as much sugar constant and extremely tender kernels.
The problem with all these supersweets was that they quickly lost their sugar content after harvest. When I was in college in the 1980s, my horticulture professor emphasized the importance of using the corn quickly after harvest to maintain the sweetness. He also emphasized refrigerating the corn quickly to slow sugar loss.
Today's sweet corn has been improved even further. Several companies have used the University of Illinois discoveries to develop sweet corn with high sugar content and long shelf life. Additionally, disease resistances identified at the University of Illinois also are being incorporated into new "Xtra Tender" supersweet hybrids.
You will also find supersweet corn in cans. Up to half of canned sweet corn in the United Sates is supersweet. Additional changes to the hybrid resulted in traits necessary to process and can supersweet corn without added sugar or salt.
Try some "supersweet" corn today! Local producers grow the sweet varieties and make it available at local Farmers Markets and grocery stores. For added incentive, "supersweet" corn is higher in protein and lower in total calories than conventional sweet corn.
Adapted from: Illinois Alumni, Volume 16, Issue 1 & news release "Supersweet Sweet Corn – 50 Years in the Making" by Pataky.