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Corn was domesticated in Mexico and Central America more than 7,000 years ago from teosinthe or wild maize (Z. mays subsp. mexicana). The corn plant may grow 1–4 m (3 to 13 ft) tall, with leaf blades 50 to 90 cm (19 to 35 in) long. The monoecious plant forms a terminal raceme (branched inflorescence) of male flowers—the tassel”--,while the axillary female inflorescences form cylindrical "cobs," each with 16–30 rows of spikelets (which develop into “kernels” when the seeds mature) and long protruding styles (the corn silks). Mature kernels are typically white or yellow, but may also range in color from red to purple.
Corn is used fresh (“green”) for human consumption, or may be dried and ground into flour or meal, important in Central American dishes, or popped and eaten as a snack. Corn oil, obtained from the grain, is used in cooking as well as many industrial uses, and cornstarch from processed grain is used as a thickener in sauces and puddings. Cornstarch can be further processed enzymatically to make high-fructose corn syrup, which has become widely used to replace sugar (sucrose) as an inexpensive sweetener in processed food and beverage products. In recent years, this use has become controversial, with critics charging that the sweetener is linked to obesity, but the American Medical Association has reported that additional research is needed to assess these claims.
In addition to use as a human food, the seed head and whole plant are used forage and silage, an important source of feed for livestock. Corn has become an increasingly important biofuel, both in the form of corn oil (used as bio-diesel) and ethanol (an alcohol fermented and distilled from the processed kernels), which is blended with petroleum-based gasoline in various proportions for use as fuel.
With Although grown in temperate and tropical countries worldwide, the U.S. alone produces more than one third of the global total of dried corn (316.2 metric tons), with China, Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina also producing significant amounts. Corn production increased by 42% worldwide over the past decade, associated with the increased demand and prices for corn as biofuel.
(AMA 2008, FAOSTAT 2012, Flora of China 2012, van Wyk 2005, Wikipedia 2012.)