How corny was that?
Did you know several kinds of corn are used for making agricultural and food products?
For instance, popcorn is made with a type of corn containing more water so that it pops when heated. Corn on the cob comes from sweet corn varieties. Dent corn is used to feed animals and to make ethanol fuel, cornstarch, and sweeteners.
Many different products are made from corn. How many things can you think of? Most of these products come from stuff inside the corn kernel, such as fiber and starch.
ARS scientists are looking for ways to use fiber and starch to make even more products. They have made two new discoveries that could increase the uses for corn.
Discovery #1 is a new corn fiber oil removed from the hull of a corn kernel. The hull is the seed coat around the entire kernel, except for the pointy tip. The new oil, calledAmaizingOil, may lower cholesterol levels when added to foods.
In early studies, the corn fiber oil lowered totalcholesterol levels in hamsters. (The hamsters weren't harmed in the study.) For people, lower cholesterol could mean lower chances for heart disease and possibly longer lives. ARS scientists are working with research partners at the University of Massachusetts to further develop AmaizingOil.
The corn processing industry produces about 4 million tons of corn fiber each year, which could yield about 80,000 tons of corn fiber oil.
Corn fiber isn't worth a lot of money. We wanted to find a way to turn this cheap fiber into valuable new products, says ARS chemist Kevin B. Hicks, pictured here.
Hicks heads the ARS Plant Science and Technology Unit located at the Eastern Regional Research Center in Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania. His group develops new products from foods like fruits and vegetables and grains, so that nothing is wasted.
Discovery #2 is corn fiber gum--not the kind of gum you chew and blow bubbles with. This gum is used in products like salad dressings and beverages. It's usually brown or tan.
Corn processors and industrial users want corn fiber gum with very little color. So ARS researchers have invented a way to make white corn fiber gum, calledZeagen. (The scientific name for corn is Zea mays.)
For about 50 years, researchers have been trying to produce a good-quality gum from corn. Thats a long time! This new gum could be used as a thickener. Thickeners are used in foods like soups and spreads--to make them thick, of course. Thickeners also are used to make glues for things like paper and cardboard, and for water-based paint.
By Tara Weaver-Missick, Agricultural Research Service, Information Staff