Asia could teach U.S. some new corn tricks

Thanks to fertile Midwestern plains, commodity-focused agricultural policy, a foreign policy that makes cheap petroleum a high priority, and an innovative agricultural industry, Americans are truly the ‘people of the corn.’ As the film “King Corn” and the book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” have well documented, corn appears everywhere in the U.S. food system.

And yet, Americans are not taking full advantage of this amazing grain, as I learned during my recent trip to Asia.

Fit to a Tea
corn-tea-img_7261The movie theater, with its cool air and hot popcorn, is a classic refuge on a scorching days. Thanks to Korea’s centuries-old tradition of herbal, fruit, and grain “teas” (explained by Kateigaho International Edition), you can get part of the movie experience at a lower cost and with far fewer calories. How? With “Corn tea,” a beverage made from roasted corn kernels steeped in water.

I learned about this product while walking through a convenience store in Seoul looking for something or other. I didn’t have time to buy a box, but soon after I got home I went Oakland’s biggest Korean market (Koreana Plaza on Telegraph Avenue) in hope of finding it. It wasn’t hard to find — the tea aisle had bags and bags of roasted corn in various shapes and sizes. I picked the organic brand (O’food, not to be confused with the huge Irish conglomerate).

During the Bay Area’s ‘heat wave’ last weekend, I brewed a glass and let it chill. It tasted a lot like unsalted popcorn. And yet it was a drink.

Candy Corn
The second item is a hard candy called “Creamy Corn,” which I picked up in Singapore’s Chinatown. The candy, which is made in Malaysia, has a pleasant, but disorienting, flavor resembling the soupy slurry known as creamed corn.

Many restaurants have bowls of mints on the cashier’s counter, or provide a mint with the check.  Given the dependence of the American food system on corn, it would be fitting for them to give out ‘Creamy Corn’ candies instead.

One Responseto “Asia could teach U.S. some new corn tricks”

  1. Aimee says:

    You don’t have to go as far as korea for more ideas on using corn. Just go south, to the land where corn was born: Mexico. The number of corn based drinks is staggering. The umbrella name for them is atole, but within that large loose category there are hundreds of variations. Atole is a hot drink, made with fresh corn meal, or parched corn meal, or nixtamal, or boiled then parched… etc etc. It can be flavored with anything from chocolate to epazote to chile. Sometimes it is sweetened, sometimes not. It can be practically a meal in a glass, depending on thickness and additives. It can be an aquired taste for americans who are not used to thickened drinks, or what we would uncharitably call gruel. 
    There is also a street candy that sounds somewhat like the candy described above. I can’t remember the name right now, but it is a sweet, soft yellow brick, rather like a very firm jello. It has a mild sweet flavor of fresh corn and I like it. Esquites are my very favorite street food in Mexico. They are corn kernals, from the rather mature, starchy cobs that Mexicans like, kept hot in simmering water. When you order some, they dip them into a dixie cup, and you are free to add any or all of the traditional condiments: mayonnaise, lime juice, powdered chile, salt, or grated cheese. Eat with a spoon. Yum. This doesn’t even scratch the surface of course, of the many ways Latin American have discovered to eat corn. Then, hey, there’s always bourbon. Salud!