Corn, or Maize, was first domesticated by native peoples of Mexico about 10,000 years ago and has been one of the main food staples in Central America since. In Mayan times, corn held a God-like status, being a crop that represented prosperity and rebirth. The Mayan people used the corn plant as a symbol of their religion, with each kernel being a head of a God. These people would use all parts of the corn plant in daily life, with the husks and stalks used to make dolls, ornamental jewelry, and to wrap foods like tamales.
Corn was brought to Europe in the late 15th century, but didn’t gain popularity instantly; it was considered savage and barbaric, and Europeans didn’t know how to cook with it. Corn became valued during the industrial revolution, when machines used to grind grains could be used to separate corn into three major products: oil, sugar and flour. Thus began corn’s reign as a versatile staple across the world.
Today, about half of corn grown around the world becomes livestock feed, and another large portion goes to the production of ethanol. Corn syrup is also a major product of corn, and is a primary source of sweetness in processed food and diet drinks. Today the US is by far the world’s largest corn grower and exporter, but corn still remains a dietary staple in Central and South America.