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Is Corn a Grain? Yes, And It’s Also a Fruit and Vegetable

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Is Corn a Grain? Yes, And It’s Also a Fruit and Vegetable

What is corn? It’s an age-old question considering corn — a.k.a. maize — is an approximately 10,000-years-old crop. While it depends on who you ask, there’s case for each camp: grain, vegetable, and yep, even fruit.

Why Corn Is a Fruit

Ready for your mind to be blown? According to Encyclopedia Britannica, “Fruit, in its strict botanical sense, [is] the fleshy or dry ripened ovary of a plant, enclosing the seed or seeds.”

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If you think about a typical fruit, like apples, that makes sense. The apple flesh surrounds a core containing seeds. But in corn’s case, each kernel is what’s called a caryopsis, basically a type of dry fruit where the ovary wall and the seed coat are fused into one layer.

Why Corn Is a Grain

The plants that produce these special fruit-seed combos all belong to the same family of cereal grasses: Poaceae. They include corn, wheat, rice, oats, and barley — i.e., grains. In fact, Merriam-Webster primarily defines grain as “a seed or fruit of a cereal grass; caryopsis.”

That’s why you might see popcorn described as a “whole-grain food.” You’re actually eating the whole kernel with all its original parts.

Why Corn Is a Vegetable (Kinda)

Grilled corn on the cob with basting brush and herb butter

Getty ImagesJodi Pudge

When Mom put an ear of corn on your plate and said “eat your veggies,” she wasn’t totally wrong. For all intents and purposes, most of us define it as such. Look for corn in the grocery store, and you’ll find it in the veggie section. The most recent USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans lists corn as both a starchy vegetable and grain.

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Even the Whole Grains Council is on board with a hybrid definition. “Fresh corn is usually classified as a vegetable, and dried corn (including popcorn) as a grain,” it states.

So while botanically speaking corn is not a vegetable, you can still get away with calling it one.

“Categories aside, corn is a plant-based source of phytonutrients, says Jaclyn London, MS, RD, CDN, Nutrition Director at the Good Housekeeping Institute. “You’ll get a higher amount of dietary carbohydrates per serving than you do of non-starchy veggies like leafy greens, broccoli, carrots, and eggplant, which have fewer calories.”

Her advice: Cut back on the butter-soaked movie theater popcorn and corn syrup-sweetened drinks and use corn in its more nutritious forms, like on the cob, in a salad, or as a replacement for white rice.

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