What Is Whole Grain Corn?

Kristeen Moore

Corn is often considered to be a starch, but the fact is that whole versions are technically grains. Whole grain corn contains bran, cereal germ, and endosperm. In some commercial grains, the refining process takes away portions of corn that no longer constitute the food as being whole. When consumers shop for unrefined grains, they can easily identify it so long as the label indicates that the corn used is “whole.” Whole grain corn is traditionally eaten off of the cob, but it is also used to make a variety of cakes, snacks, and tortillas.

Cornbread is made using whole grain corn.
Cornbread is made using whole grain corn.

Whole grains are processed into various foods, but their general makeup still remains the same. Refined grains lack bran and cereal germ, and manufacturers deposit B vitamins back into the mix during processing. Whole grain corn is generally preferred over refined versions because it contains more nutrients, such as protein, carbohydrates, and potassium.

Cotija cheese sprinkled over corn on the cob.
Cotija cheese sprinkled over corn on the cob.

When consumers eat corn on the cob, the food is considered to be a whole grain. This is due to the fact that the kernels have not been taken off of the cob and processed into meal. Natural food shoppers tend to eat organic versions because the stalks are not grown with the assistance of pesticides. It is important for consumers to keep in mind that organic corn might be more expensive than those that are grown conventionally.

An ear of corn. When the kernels are not processed, they are considered whole grains.
An ear of corn. When the kernels are not processed, they are considered whole grains.

Like other types of whole grains, corn versions are often processed and packaged in the form of meal. The substance is used to create cornbread, cakes, and tortillas. When purchasing cornmeal, consumers should be aware that there are certain versions that are not labeled as whole grain. Organic versions are often preferred by some cooks because such meals are touted as being healthier and tasting better. Chefs also have the option of making their own corn into meal simply by boiling fresh kernels and grinding them in a food processor.

Identifying processed versions of whole grain corn is a relatively easy process, so long as the ingredients are labeled on the packaging. Refined versions of cornmeal generally state that the grains are “degerminated,” meaning that the bran and cereal have been removed. Cornmeal that actually consists of unrefined grains is labeled as “whole.”

In addition to the differences between whole grain corn and regular versions, there are a few types of kernels used to make meal. Yellow corn is perhaps the most common type used to process into meal, while white varieties generally come in second. Depending on the region, blue and red varieties might also be prevalent in some markets.

Organic corn is grown without the assistance of pesticides.
Organic corn is grown without the assistance of pesticides.

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Discussion Comments


@jennythelib - I'm totally going to try that for my son's next birthday party! He and his friends always eat way too many sweets (cake, ice cream, etc.) and then after the party, he's so irritable. It can't hurt to try subbing out some of the "white carbs."

I already tried it Christmas morning -- this past year we had whole grain English muffins with bacon and eggs instead of cinnamon rolls -- and I felt like it really helped keep him from crashing later.


Junk food is junk food, but there are levels to it, and some junk food is actually made with whole grain corn!

You are better off not having chips of any kind, we all know that. A nice bowl of fresh fruit would be so much better for us. But... at your Super Bowl party? Your kid's birthday party? Probably not happening.

*But* substituting whole grain corn chips like Sun Chips or even Doritos for potato chips could have benefits. Potato chips and other simple carbohydrates are metabolized a lot like sugar; they cause blood sugar spikes and then crashes. But whole grain chips don't do that as much.

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