What is the difference between maize and corn?

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LAST UPDATED: September 2, 2020 by Ryan M

There is no difference between corn and maize. In fact, according to Merriam-Webster, the definition of maize is quite literally “corn.” Also, corn and maize share the same Wikipedia page—which the site chooses to title as “Maize.” This point should be clear: Corn and maize are the same thing. But why are both terms used?

Over time, the two terms have caused quite a bit of confusion, leading people—like you and me—to ask the basic question about the difference between the two. The origin of the term maize stems from the indigenous people of southern Mexico, who began cultivating the crop thousands of years ago. As the popularity of maize spread throughout South and Central America, more and more cultures began growing it. When the Spanish arrived in the Caribbean, they learned that the indigenous Taino people referred to the crop as mahiz. The Spanish derivation of that term became the maize we know today.

In the United States, corn has been the long-preferred term for the crop. When the first European settlers landed in America, they saw the crops being grown by the local Native American tribes. From then onward, it was referred to as “Indian corn,” eventually shortened to just corn.

Most countries around the world refer to the crop as maize. Only a handful, including the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, call it corn. That is likely because after the Spanish discovered maize in the Caribbean, they took it back to Europe where its popularity spread rapidly.

To this day, corn remains an extremely important crop. Corn and its byproducts are harnessed in numerous ways that many people do not realize. For example, did you know that many cosmetic and hygiene products use corn starch as an ingredient? Or that when you want to treat a cough, those cough drops you turn to likely have corn syrup as a primary ingredient?

You may also be surprised to learn that less than 10% of US corn production is used for human food. In fact, nearly 40% of all corn produced in America is used to feed livestock, such as cows, pigs, and chickens.

For any whiskey enthusiasts, it may interest you to know that corn plays an important role in that industry as well. Whiskey can be produced from just about any grain including wheat, rye, barley, and corn, with corn being the most common. Bourbon, however, is very specific in that it must be produced from at least 51% corn.

INTERESTING FACTS

  1. In 2019, corn was America’s largest crop, with farmers growing nearly 92 million acres.
  2.  Around one-third of US corn is used to produce ethanol, a renewable additive to gasoline.
  3. The average ear of corn has 800 kernels in 16 different rows.
  4. A farm in the town of Annville, Pennsylvania created the first corn maze in 1993 to attract tourists.
  5. Popcorn has been around for thousands of years and was even discovered in Peruvian tombs.

INTERESTING VIDEO

INTERESTING REFERENCES

  1. eHow.com – The Differences Between Maize & Corn
  2. ScientificAmerican.com – It’s Time to Rethink America’s Corn System
  3. USDA.gov – Corn is America’s Largest Crop in 2019

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