8 Tips for Buying and Storing Corn
By Steven Raichlen
- To maximize corn’s sweetness, buy from a local farm (preferably harvested that morning) and cook it the same day. As soon as corn is harvested, its sugars begin to turn to starch. In fact, in heirloom varieties, the ratio of sugars to starches—normally 80:20—can invert in as little as 24 hours. The so-called “super sweet” hybrids popular since the 1980s stay sweeter longer.
- Check the silky tangle at the top of the ear: It should be thick as each strand represents a fertilized female flower, otherwise known as a kernel. The top of the silk bundle might be brown and drying, but the bottom should be moist and pale green, indicating the ear was freshly picked. (Interesting factoid: On average, ears of sweet corn contain 800 kernels in 16 even rows.)
- The stem end (where the ear of corn joined the stalk) should look moist and fresh, maybe even oozing a little corn sap. A dry, browning stem indicates the corn left the field days—not hours—ago.
- The husk should be bright green and cover the ear snugly. That ear should feel firm and full. I like to strip back a little of the husk to make sure the kernels look plump and fully and evenly formed. Some farm stands will do this for you with each batch of corn. Others consider it bad etiquette. To avoid ill feelings, I buy the ears of corn I’ve stripped back—even if they’re less than perfect.
- To the extent possible, avoid pre-shucked corn—especially if the kernels look dried out or dimpled.
- Small brown holes in the husk, especially near the tip, can mean the corn harbors worms or other insects. If only one section is afflicted, I generally cut it off.
- If not using within a few hours, store corn (unhusked) in brown paper bags in the vegetable drawer of your refrigerator.
- A great way to reinvigorate tired corn is to recut the stem ends (also called the shanks) with a sharp knife. Put an inch of cool water in the bottom of a clean bucket and add a tablespoon of sugar. Slip a large plastic bag over the top of the corn to retain moisture. Store the corn upright (stem ends submerged) in a cool place until ready to cook.