Different Types of Sweet Corn
Among fresh summer veggies, sweet corn (Zea mays) is among the most delectable. Whether your preference is grilled corn, corn roasted in husks or boiled corn, nothing rivals sweet corn on the cob for side dishes at backyard barbecues, especially when grown in your home garden.
Connoisseurs of fresh corn know that the sugar content varies among sweet corn varieties, giving subtleties to the sweet flavor and texture of different types. The five primary types of sweet corn also have differences in storage life, harvest periods and seed germination requirements.
Although the science behind the flavor is complicated and colors include white kernels, yellow kernels or bicolor kernels, the results of eating sweet summer corn are simply luscious.
Standard Sugary (su) Sweet Corn
As the oldest class of sweet corn, standard sugary (su) has endured for many years. Compared to newer classes, standard sugary cultivars have lower sugar content (10 to 15% at harvest), and their sugars convert to starch in only a few days after the ears are harvested.
This means you’ll need to consume or process this type of corn quickly—in only one or two days—to enjoy peak flavor and sweetness, which is why growing corn in this class is commonly done in home gardens. Corn seed germination occurs when soil temperatures are 55 to 60°F.
Standard sugary (su) cultivars: Silver Queen, Honey & Cream, Jubilee
Sugary Enhanced (se) Sweet Corn
With slightly higher sugar levels and longer storage times (up to several days more) than standard sugary corn, sugary enhanced (se) cultivars are most commonly grown for market and retail sales.
Of all the sweet corn classes, sugary enhanced corn kernels are more tender and creamier. Corn seed germination occurs when soil temperatures are 55 to 60°F.
Sugary enhanced (se) cultivars: Bodacious, Fantasia, Temptation
Shrunken-2 (sh2) aka Supersweet Corn
A certain gene that causes the dried kernels of certain types of sweet corn to look wrinkled or shrunken gives this class the aptly named shrunken-2 (sh2) corn. Also called supersweet corn, cultivars in this class have sugar levels that may be double that of other types of sweet corn, which gets the vote from many consumers as the best corn in all the sweet corn classes.
Because sugar is slowly converted to starch, the ears of corn may be stored for up to 10 days without losing their sweetness. Corn seed germination occurs when soil temperatures are at least 60°F.
Shrunken-2 (sh) cultivars: Devotion, How Sweet It Is, Obsession
Synergistic (syn) Sweet Corn
As one of the newer classes of sweet corn, synergistic (syn) corn has a trifecta of qualities: sweetness, creaminess and tenderness. Some of the older cultivars in this class have sowing and germination challenges, including brittle seed that is easily damaged, smaller seeds that may not be compatible with seeding machinery and low yields.
But many of the newer cultivars have been bred to overcome these challenges. Corn seed germination occurs when soil temperatures are 55° to 60°F.
Synergistic (syn) cultivars: Cameo, Gourmet Sweet, Vitality
Augmented Supersweet (shA) Sweet Corn
Containing the se gene of sugary enhanced corn and the sh2 gene of shrunken-2 corn, augmented supersweet (shA) corn hybrids are tasty, tender and juicy. Because these cultivars carry the sh2 gene, dried kernels are wrinkled or shrunken. Corn seed germination occurs when soil temperatures are at least 60 to 65°F.
Augmented supersweet (shA) cultivars: Eden, Natalie, Solstice
Victoria Lee Blackstone is a horticulturist, nursery owner, and writer for the green industry. After studying botany and microbiology at Clemson, she worked in the Horticulture Dept. for the University of Georgia as a Master Gardener Coordinator. Blackstone has been a Master Gardener course instructor for 15 years, teaching her class in phytopathology as part of the required Master Gardener curriculum.