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Sweetcorn Wasn't Originally Sweet: The Historical Science Of Maize

Updated: Sep 22, 2023

✍🏻 Htar Yu Nwe | BSc Biology Student & Quality Technician Placement Student at Oxford Immunotec


Where does sweetcorn originate from? 🌾

Sweetcorn originates from a type of grass called teosinte, which is a bushy wild plant that produces hard seeds.

You may be surprised to hear that the sweetcorn we are eating today, didn't used to be sweet, or even corn in the past.

Sweetcorn domestication.

How did domestication alter the genes of sweetcorn to become the food it is today? 🌽

Throughout history, humans have had to adapt to the developing civilisation, from hunters-gatherers to the modern way of living today.

The domestication process is a method that has taken place throughout the years.

It involves plants or animals being selectively bred or modified over generations to better suit human needs, such as food, labour, companionship, or aesthetic enjoyment.

It was not an easy process to domesticate teosinte (the wild grass) to become the juicy sweetcorn we are eating today. The domestication process has been suggested to have started in Mesoamerica, what is modern-day Mexico, where the farmers in the area have noticed the natural variation in teosinte.

They began selecting teosinte with larger cobs, increased kernel size, and a range of colours, including yellow, white, and multicoloured kernels.

With multiple breeding of selective traits over the years, the genes in the teosinte evolved, and eventually, teosinte progressed to form the corn we know today.

Maize cultivation then spread to other places beyond Mesoamerica, including areas such as Central America, South America, and eventually, North America.

The adaptation to the climate and environmental changes and local cultivation practices further altered the maize characteristics and gave birth to locally adapted maize varieties.


Why was the domestication of maize important? 🏠

The domestication of maize is an important process in history as it had a large impact on ancient Mesoamerican civilizations, such as the Mayans and the Aztecs.

Since maize is a staple food source, their role in the development of ancient Mesoamerican cultures, economies, and agricultural systems was a critical aspect.

The journey of maize domestication highlights the amazing history of humans and their intentional or unintentional involvement in solutionising and ensuring sustenance and food security, and ultimately survival.

The insights bring us the importance of agriculture, food resources, and their impact on human civilisations.

Isobel Thompson, Content Writer at Write in the Loop

Written by: Htar Yu Nwe (Content Writer)

Grace Pountney, Founder and Director at Write in the Loop

Edited by: Grace Pountney (Founder and Director)


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