Sweet corn is well known as a mealtime vegetable and some people are surprised that not all corn in the fields is the same. It isn't uncommon for someone to stop along the road and sample an ear of corn only to get a mouthful of pasty, starchy kernels and wrinkle their noses. There's a lot of difference between sweet corn and the field corn that makes up so much of the corn harvested each year in the United States.
According to the Cooperative Extension System, sweet corn makes up only 5 percent of the annual corn crops grown in the United States each year. Field corn is used for many things. Besides being a main ingredient in animal feeds, it is used in a wide variety of human foods such as corn flakes, corn meal and in food additives including corn syrup.
Sweet corn kernels are wrinkled-looking compared to the smooth, firm texture of field corn kernels. When field corn matures it gets a dent in it from the moisture leaving the kernel. The dent in the top layers of kernels gives field corn the nickname "dent corn."
Sweet corn produces fewer ears per acre than field corn. Sweet corn is harvested faster, before it is fully mature and dries out, so that the sugar content and moisture is at its peak.
Field corn has a deeper yellow, almost orange tint due to the kernels being dried out. Sweet corn has a wet appearance and bright pale yellow color.
Sweet corn is less hardy and more prone to disease and pest destruction. Field corn is scientifically designed to withstand severe growing conditions, disease resistant and able to tolerate pests better to get greater yields in the more in-demand crops.
Field corn is much taller at an average of 7 to 10 feet at maturity compared to sweet corn's 5- to 8-foot height. The rest of the sweet corn plant is smaller in all ways than the field corn plant as well, with smaller leaves, thinner stalks and shorter ears.