Corn on the cob is an all-American summertime tradition. Corn, or Zea mays, is an indigenous North American food developed from native grasses in Mexico thousands of years ago. Today's farmers raise millions of acres of corn to provide feed for livestock, ingredients for processed foods and ethanol for fuel, but the sweetest corn harvest is late-summer corn on the cob eaten fresh from the fields.
Modern corn on the cob is classified into three types based on the genes that give them their sweet flavor. Yellow, white and bicolor varieties are available in each of the three genetic types.
Standard sweet corn varieties such as the yellow Jubilee, white Silver Queen and bicolor Butter and Sugar contain a sugary "SU" gene. Standard SU type corn is not overly sweet and has a strong corn flavor. The sugars of SU corn break down fast, so freshness is critically important to corn's flavor.
Newer hybrids like the yellow Kandy Korn and white Cotton Candy have significantly higher sugar content because of their sugary enhancer or SE gene. SE corn varieties remain tender and creamy, but taste noticeably sweeter than standard types. The sugars in SE corn last a little longer than those in SU corn, but it's still sweeter the fresher it is.
The newest super-sweet corn varieties such as the yellow Early Xtra Sweet, white Treasure, or bicolor Honey N Pearl contain an Sh2 gene that raises the sugar content even higher and makes the sweetness more stable over time, but this gene also reduces the creamy texture and gives each kernel a tough coating. Whether the extra sweetness is worth the trade-off in texture is a matter of personal preference, as there are plenty of standard, enhanced and super-sweet varieties to choose from during corn season.
Whatever your fancy, enjoy the harvest.