Yellow Corn vs. White Corn: A Corn Farmer from Iowa Explains the Difference

What are the differences between yellow and white corn? I asked a corn farmer from Iowa to find out.

Yellow Corn vs. White Corn: A Corn Farmer from Iowa Explains the Difference
white corn and yellow corn
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In summer, I love seeing the big piles of corn at the grocery or farmers market. I admit I never know whether to try to get yellow or white corn. I’ve heard that yellow corn is more tender, but is that really the case?

“There isn’t much difference between yellow and white corn,” says Mark Mueller, a fourth-generation farmer who is on the board of the Iowa Corn Growers Association. Corn is Iowa’s leading crop with 12.9 million acres harvested each year.

Why Yellow Corn Is the Most Popular

Mueller explains the sweet corn colors we see today date back about two decades. “Early on, 150 years ago, you could still get corn in any color,” he says. “But in the late 1800s, there happened to be a particular corn variety that did really well. It was called Pennsylvania yellow dent.”

Because this variety of corn thrived and became so popular, people assumed that yellow corn must be the best, Mueller says. “But it was just by chance that it was yellow. I could’ve been orange, blue, white, brown or any color.” 

Yellow Corn vs. White Corn

The only real difference between the yellow and white sweet corn is the pigment in the kernel. Any variation in taste has to do with the corn variety, not the color, Mueller explains.

The vast majority of the corn that is grown in the United States is field corn, which is used for a lot of food items (think tortilla chips and cereal) as well as livestock feed. Sweet corn is grown for people to eat. “Sweet corn is bred to have more sugar in it and tends to be yellow or white,” says Mueller. “But the sugar content is not connected to color.”

Color doesn’t really matter—freshness is the key to great-tasting corn. “You have to assume that it’s fairly fresh if it’s at the farmers market, no more than one day old at the very most,” Mueller says. Even at the grocery store, he says corn is likely just a few days from being harvested.

grilled corn on a platter
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A Farmer's Tip for Keeping Your Corn Fresh

At the store, you often see people standing around the corn bins, shucking the ears and discarding the leaves and silk into a trash can. I was never sure if they did this to look at the kernel quality or just to avoid having the mess at home.

The mess is likely the main reason, says Mueller, who remembers growing up and shucking corn right by the family’s cattle yard so they could feed the husks to the cows.

Mueller suggests waiting to shuck the corn. “If I were buying sweet corn, I would prefer to have it unhusked just to protect it a bit more,” he says. “Any way you keep it sealed is better for the corn in the end. Husk it right before you eat it.” 

He suggests keeping the husk on as long as possible. If you’re going to eat it that day, then you can leave it out. If it’s going to be a little longer, he advises putting the corn in the refrigerator.

What's Mueller's favorite way to enjoy corn? “I personally don’t like it grilled. I think that dries it out,” Mueller says. “My favorite tip is not the most healthy thing. I boil it in water and then put a whole lot of butter on it.”