We’ve gotten used to very sweet and tender corn. That trend started way back in the 1930s and hybridizers haven’t stopped making improvements. Corn is one case where open pollinated varieties just can’t match the sweetness of new introductions. (Which is not to say OP corn isn’t still delicious.)
Even so, buying corn on the cob in a store can be a gamble. Sometimes it’s as tender and sweet as you’d expect, other times it is bland and starchy. That doesn’t mean the corn is past its prime or was grown in bad conditions. Very often it is the type of seed chosen.
We can’t always tell what we’re getting in the store, but when you grow your own, check to see what category your variety falls into.There are new corn varieties introduced every year, but they all fall into 3 basic categories: sugary hybrids (SU), sugary enhanced hybrids (SE) and supersweet hybrids (SH2).
It’s impossible to know what we’re getting in the store, but when you grow your own, check to see what category your variety falls into. Here’s a quick breakdown, to help you choose.
Sugary Hybrids (SU)
This is the standard sweet corn variety. SU corn varieties have a sugar content of 5 – 10%. They tend to have large kernels with a traditional creamy texture. Unfortunately the sugars quickly converts to starch and SU corn is best if it can be eaten shortly after being picked.
Some to try: ‘Silver Queen’, ‘Golden Cross Bantam’, ‘Early Sunglow’, ‘Butter and Sugar’
Sugary Enhanced Hybrids (SE)
This is probably the ideal choice for home gardeners. It combines the best of the 2 other types. Corn in this category has a sugar content of 15 – 18%. Although sweeter than SU types, SE corn still has the traditional creamy texture and large size kernels. They are also slower to convert to starch.
Some to try: ‘Bodacious’, ‘Merlin’, ‘Divinity’, ‘Sugar Snow’
Super Sweet Enhanced Hybrids (SH2)
Supersweet seeds are small and they can be a bit trickier to grow than the other types, with fussy growing requirements and a tendency to revert to the toughness of field corn if they are accidentally cross pollinated with other types. But with a 20 – 30 % sugar content, they have 2 – 3 times the sweetness off SU corn. They also tend to be crunchier, with less of the creamy-milky quality of SU and SE types.
Their biggest perk is how slow they are to convert their sugars into starch. Supersweets remain sugary, even when stored in the refrigerator.
Some to try: ‘Jubilee Supersweet’, ‘How Sweet It Is’, ‘Phenomenal’, ‘Radiance’
Of course once you’ve decided on a type of corn, you’ll still have a choice of yellow, white, or bicolor.
And to prolong your harvest, you can choose early (65 to 70 days), mid-season (70 to 80 days), and late (80 or more days) corn. (Cooler climate gardeners won’t always have enough season to grow late corn.)