Indiginous African cultures have long since found uses for maize and other corn products to help bolster the nutrition of the foods they ate. Maize has for years been a staple in many ethnic cuisines but in past years has been gaining in popularity worldwide. Depending on where in the world you grew up, when you think about maize you might picture the multi-colored corn that is often used in Thanksgiving decorations, or you might think of animal feedstock; maize however can be used in a wide variety of culinary and practical applications.
In South Africa, maize is known as ‘mielie’, and it was introduced to the country in the 1500s. Since then it has come to count for a big part of Africa’s cereal crop, as well as a staple food for those living in Sub-Saharan Africa. Nigeria alone produces almost 8,000,000 tons of maize each year, with Africa harvesting a grand yearly total of almost thirty million hectares of field corn.
Maize, or field corn, is simply corn that has been allowed to pass from the fresh, or tender, stage to a dried state. This makes it far easier to process, store, and use in large scale applications. With fresh corn, you only have a small window of opportunity before it goes rancid – but with dried corn or maize, your possibilities are endless. There are dozens of uses for maize and they are certainly not limited to holiday decoration.
Maize is quite simply an integral ingredient in many of the foods and products that we use each and every day. For example maize, or corn, is used in plastic products, paper products, for fuel, and for animal food as well as food that is produced for human consumption. It is a highly versatile substance that has found its way into most of the things that we as humans use each day. In regards to food, maize is a key ingredient in products like canned corn (which is made from freshly harvested corn), tortillas (which are made from dried corn) hominy, breads, and many other common food stuffs.
Though corn may not appear as itself in many foods, it is often used in foods for its starch, which helps to thicken things like soups, and can also help to add nutrients to otherwise bland foods. Maize or corn flower is often used in industrial applications in place of grain or wheat flour because it is often more stable and inexpensive than grain flour. You can also get cooking oil from Maize, which many foods are cooked in, making it essentially both an ingredient and a process by which to cook. While Maize is used in many applications around the world, it is generally used for animal feed in industrialized countries like the United States, and the by-products are often used for bio fuels.
Maize is an incredible thing and has a place in just about any application you can dream up. It is incredibly versatile and will continue to be a main ingredient in many of the things that we take for granted.
Written by Dan
For other articles on growing crops in Africa, click here.