According to the USDA 2010 crop production summary corn for grain production is estimated at 12.4 billion bushels.1 With so many bushels of corn sold, you’d wonder what all the corn is being used for? As it turns out, corn is a versatile crop with a wide variety of uses. The national corn growers association states that there are more than 4,200 different uses for corn products. Corn can be used for both food and non-food products. Non-food uses can include pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, while food uses can be as transparent as high fructose corn syrup or as ambiguous as sodium erythorbate (since that same product could come from a different source like, sugar canes or beets). This FoodFacts.com blog article will focus on corn derived products and ingredients which we may not realize use corn.
Antibiotics: Over 85 different types of antibiotics are produced using corn. Penicillin is one of the antibiotics made using a corn product – corn steep liquor, as it has nutrients needed for penicillin to grow. It was formerly considered a waste material, corn steep liquor became a crucial ingredient in the large-scale production of penicillin.
Aspirin: an oxidized starch paste, which dries to a clear, adherent, continuous film, is spread in a thin layer over the aspirin.
Paper Products: Paper products use raw starch in the manufacturing process. The properties of high paste viscosity and strong gels are useful in specially coated papers. Pyrodextrins are also used for paper manufacturing for the adhesive property on remoistenable gums for postage stamps and packaging tape.
Beer: Beer manufacturing is a process of treating malt to convert and extract the barley starch to fermentable sugars using the amyloytic enzymes present in malt followed by yeast fermentation. However, demand for lighter, less filling beer, especially in the U.S., has permitted use of more refined carbohydrate sources of two types: a) dry adjuncts, primarily dry milled corn grits, broken rice, refined corn starch, and more recently, dextrose and b) liquid adjuncts, namely corn syrups.
Citric Acid: Used as preservative, pH control, and to add a tart flavor to foods. Citric acid can be found in fruit sauces, jellies, canned goods and many other types of foods. Citric acid can be derived from fruits, however in view of the fact that the isolation of citric acid from fruits is very expensive, it is commercially produced from sugar with the help of bacteria and yeasts. (See the 331 page list of food items that use citric acid as an ingredient: http://www.foodfacts.com/search/index.cfm?type=ingredient&query=citricacid)
Iodized Salt: Iodine, an essential nutrient, is found in iodized salt. It was originally added to salt to prevent goiters. Corn derived dextrose is also added to iodized salt to help retain the added iodine.
Many (understatement perhaps?) products can be made from corn. It is used as food for humans and feed for animals, as well as nonfood uses in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, detergents and more. As science has a tendency to do, it will most likely find many more uses for corn.
See this poster for more products which use corn: http://www.ncga.com/uploads/useruploads/cornusesposter.pdf