From Teosinte To Modern Maize: The History Of Corn

Corn is ubiquitous in many aspects of daily life. From the food we eat, to the fuel powering our cars, and even in many products we use – corn (or the modern maize) is virtually speaking everywhere. But what may surprise some people is that the corn we know today has been crafted over thousands of years through selective breeding.

From teosinte to the modern maize we all know today, here’s a brief history of corn. Image source:

This beloved crop has been the companion of North Americans for centuries who first brought it from one place to another during ancient times. Now, vast fields are cultivated around the world providing sustenance for people of all nations.

Where the First Corn Was Grown

Wild teosinte, the ancestor of the first corn plant, is believed to have been selectively bred by indigenous farmers in southeastern Mexico between 8,000 and 10,000 years ago. This wild grass had very small cobs and was vastly different from modern corn – with only five genes separating them.

Modern maize can trace its origins back to the wild teosinte cultivated in Mexico thousand years ago. Image source:

However, much like crop scientists today, these ancient farmers chose to selectively breed teosinte for desirable traits over time – transforming it into the familiar corn we know today.

How Corn Got To North America

Native people took their selectively bred corn seeds with them as they moved north or south from Mexico. This crop was of great importance to many indigenous tribes – providing sustenance, fuel, and a variety of other important uses.

Historians believe that corn is truly an American original and that it was Christopher Columbus who introduced it to Europe after his voyage in the Caribbean in 1493.

Corn’s History In Early America

Native Americans continued to improve corn over time as they moved to new areas and through trade, continuing their use of selective breeding.

This hardy crop was also an important part of the early development of America, famously providing sustenance to the residents of Plymouth Colony at the first Thanksgiving feast in 1621.

How Corn Is Used Today

Today, there are numerous varieties of corn that can be used for a variety of purposes:

  • Field corn, also known as dent corn, is commonly used for livestock feed and to make products such as ethanol.
  • Sweet corn, which is found in grocery stores as corn on the cob, canned corn or frozen corn, is ideal for eating during summer barbecues.
  • White corn, which is often made into snack foods like chips and tortillas, completes the trifecta of the most common types of corn.
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