Nature Bulletin No. 500-A September 29, 1973
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
George W. Dunne, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation
Corn is the most important plant grown in America. It is the most
efficient cereal for trapping energy from the sun and using that to
convert fertile soil into food. Corn is the backbone of our agriculture,
just as it was for the Incas, Mayas, Aztecs and Indians who preceded
us. Flint corn, soft corn, sweet corn and popcorn are types which have
their uses but dent or "field" corn is most widely grown and by far the
About 80 percent of the field corn grown in the United States is fed to
livestock. From those animals we obtain meat, milk, eggs, fats, leather
and other-products. A small amount is used to make hominy, corn
meal and breakfast foods. Most of the remainder is processed into
other foods, starches, innumerable products derived from starch,
alcoholic beverages, alcohol and raw materials for many industries.
Chemists have discovered ways to make corn, originally a simple food
for man and beast, serve a vast number of purposes.
At Bedford Park adjoining Summit, here in Cook County, stands the
huge Argo plant of the Corn Products Refining Company, the world's
largest manufacturer of corn starches, dextrose, corn syrups, dextrin
and a host of by-products. Some of its brand names -- such as Karo
syrup, Mazola Oil, Argo, Niagara and Linit starches -- are familiar to
every housewife. The plant was located here in 1907 because Chicago,
blessed with a plentiful supply of water, is America's greatest
transportation center and at the heart of the Corn Belt -- nine
midwestern states where the bulk of our corn is grown.
A kernel of corn, within its horny hull, is filled with white raw starch -
- called the endosperm -- surrounding the embryo and germ of a new
plant. The hull produces bran, which, mixed with gluten, is fed to
cattle. The germ contains corn oil and after this is squeezed out there
is a residue or "cake" valuable as cattle food. The oil is processed for
use in the manufacture of soaps, glycerin and nitroglycerin. Further
refined, it produces salad and cooking oils.
principal types of products are obtained from the raw starch in the
endosperm: corn syrups, commercial sugars, edible and industrial
starches, dextrose -- a simple sugar -- and the sticky dextrins. They
have a seemingly endless variety of uses and, in addition to distilleries
and breweries, are employed in more than 30 big industries such as
those that manufacture cotton goods, rayon, paper products, adhesives,
explosives and steel.
Corn syrup is used in candies, ice cream, baking, making rayon and
curing tobacco -- more than on pancakes. It is delivered to some
Industries in tank cars and trucks. Corn sugar is used in diets of
infants and diabetics but a few of its more important industrial uses are
for making vinegar, brewing, spinning rayon and tanning leather.
Edible starch goes into puddings, jellies and candies. Industrial
starches, which include laundry starch, are essential ingredients of
baking powder, textile sizing, cosmetics and explosives. They may be
used as "filler" in paper to make bags, boxes, envelopes, etc. Dextrins
are used in sauces, sizing, glue, mucilage and sand molds for foundry
Perhaps the most important products of corn are the remarkable
civilizations it has made possible.
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Update: June 2012