What’s the difference between corn and maize? Not much! Corn and maize are both terms that reference the same cereal grain. Corn is primarily used in the North American english vernacular, whereas maize is used in the British english vernacular.
Though the two words are often used interchangeably, they can have substantially separate applications. Maize is rarely used in reference to food products that are made from maize grains, while corn is frequently used for food items. Corn is not a preferred term for scientific, formal, or international use, whereas maize is mainly used in its place in these applications.
The words corn and maize both refer to what is perhaps the world’s most important food crop, the typically yellow or white kerneled fruit that comes on a cob that is protected by a husk. The two words are often used interchangeably and are, for the most part, different terminologies that are used to describe the same subject. However, words evolve over time and often hold different meanings in different regions of the world.
What is Corn?
Corn is a cereal grain grown from the seed of a plant in the grass family. What we know as corn today was developed over years through a selective breeding process. Today, corn is one of the most important food crops in the world and it provides more food energy and carbohydrates than any other food crop. Corn is cultivated on more land area than any other commercial food crop on the planet.
Corn is also used as a filler for plastics, and an important ingredient in the production of insulation and adhesives. Corn is also used to create explosives, various chemicals, paints, dyes, and solvents. The pharmaceutical industry uses corn in the development of various medicines. It is loaded with carbohydrates and nutrients like vitamins A, B, and C. Including corn in your diet can lower the risk of diabetes and hypertension. The antioxidants present in corn are believed to improve eye health. Corn can be made into flour or syrup and it is also commonly used to feed livestock. Corn can also be transformed into ethanol, which can be used as fuel for automobiles. Corn can even be processed and used to make plastic.
The word corn carries different meanings in different geographical regions. In the 17th century, the word corn was used to refer to the primary crop in the particular area. In England, corn referred to wheat, and in Scotland, corn meant oats. In areas of Germany, corn referred to rye. In the US and Canada, corn refers to maize, and the two words are used interchangeably to reference the same thing. When used to refer to food products that are made from the grain, the word corn is preferred over maize (Ex: corn starch, corn flour and corn meal). In the US and Canada, the word corn only refers to maize, and is not used to reference other common grains.
The use of the word corn to refer to the primary crop of the region has faded over time. Folks in England no longer use the word to refer to wheat, and Germans no longer use it in reference to rye. However, the word corn is used to refer to the harvested fruit in culinary applications whereas maize is used to refer to the crops in the field prior to harvesting and is used in formal, scientific, and international contexts.
What Is Maize?
When Christopher Columbus made a pit stop on an island near northern Antilles, the indeginous Tahino people on the island shared their primary food crop with him and his crew. Their primary food crop was what we now call corn, but the Tahino farmers called it “mahiz”, which, in their language, means, “source of life.” The Spanish brought samples of the grain with them, and eventually the name mahiz evolved into maize.
Maize is an accepted scientific term and an international term for corn, as it clearly references only the one particular grain and cannot be confused with other food sources. The word corn, on the other hand, can suggest different meanings based on context and location. The word maize is also commonly used by research institutes and agricultural groups like the FAO and CSIRO. Maize is not used as commonly as corn in modern language, but it is important due to its use in scientific and international applications, as it cannot be confused for other grains, like the word corn.
Differences Between Corn and Maize
A more simple way to distinguish the two terms is to look at how they are used in reference to the maturity of the grain. Maize is used to refer to the food crop, especially prior to harvesting. A farmer is growing maize, and will eventually harvest maize to sell on the market as corn. Maize can refer to what is grown in the field, whereas corn refers to the harvested product, or the food at the market or on your dinner plate.
Another easy way to think about the differences between the two terms is this: All maize is corn, but not all corn is maize. Depending on where you are, corn can reference a variety of different grains, but maize is always referring to the same crop, which we commonly call corn.
When corn is being discussed in a technical or scientific setting, the word maize is used instead of the less precise and more general term corn. In the study of genetics, for example, corn is always referred to as maize. In America, Australia, and New Zealand, corn can be used in reference to the plant that cobs grow on, the individual kernels that are found on the cob of the popular crop, and the cob itself. Yes, you read that correctly, corn produces ears of corn. Corn is indeed corn, both on the cob, and off.
As if the difference between corn and maize wasn’t confusing enough on its own, there are also corn mazes. Corn mazes are intricate and confusing pathways cut into a field of corn for entertainment purposes. Corn farmers create corn mazes to increase revenue and entice people to visit and spend money at their corn farms. Corn mazes can be found all over the world, usually in autumn around Halloween. In the UK, they are called maize mazes, which is hilarious, and at the same time, also makes perfect sense.