Samp is a food made by roughly cracking kernels of corn. In the cracking process, the outer layer of the kernels is removed, leaving the tender inner layer of the kernels behind. Samp can be used in a variety of ways, including a corn pudding known as “samp” in the New England states. Some markets carry samp, especially if they specialize in foods from the American South.
Corn has been cultivated for consumption in the Americas for thousands of years, and prepared in a wide variety of ways. When European colonists were introduced to corn, they developed their own terms to refer to various corn products, and sometimes these terms were confused as they traveled from region to region. As a result, a huge assortment of terms can be used to refer to various preparations of corn kernels, sometimes generating dispute between people from different regions.
As a general rule, whole corn kernels without their outer layers are known as “hominy.” Hominy is typically made by soaking corn in lye to loosen the outer shells, which float to the top, where they can be skimmed off. Then, the corn is soaked in several changes of fresh water to leach out the lye, and allowed to dry. Samp is made either from hominy or whole kernels of corn which are cracked, but not ground, while grits is made from coarsely ground corn. It is also possible to make a fine-grained corn flour with additional grinding, as is done in Latin America and the Southwest.
However, there are regional differences between samp, grits, and hominy. For example, in some parts of the American South, people use “big hominy” to describe whole corn kernels, and “little hominy” to describe grits. “Samp” can refer both to cracked kernels of corn, and to a mush made with samp, or with grits, especially in the Northeast, where people tend to distinguish less between samp and grits.
Treatment in lye doesn't just remove the unpalatable outer layer of the corn kernel. It also frees up the nutrition in the corn, making samp more nutritionally valuable than plain corn. In Latin America, people treat corn with lime, which frees up even more nutrition. Samp can be white or golden, depending on the variety of corn used to make it, and it is best when freshly prepared. Old samp tends to have less flavor as well as less nutrition, leading people who have only tasted foods prepared with old samp to view this food as unpalatable and dull.
In addition to being widely used in American Southern cooking, samp also appears in some parts of Africa, where it contributes significantly to the diet of some African peoples. Samp mush may be eaten plain or mixed with whatever fruits and vegetables are available, or used as a side for curries and stews.