Corn: Its Advantages As A Food

It has been observed that, in countries where much corn is eaten, tuberculosis and epilepsy, as well as kidney disorders, are extremely rare. We shall not here question the correctness of this statement, but it is an undisputed fact that corn is a very valuable article of food. It is another of the many anomalies to be met with in our method of nourishment that a foodstuff containing 10 per cent. of albumin, over 5 per cent. of fat, and about 70 per cent. of carbohydrates, as well as many nutrient salts, should in our country be chiefly used to feed pigs and to fatten geese and ducks, while thousands of persons are suffering from hunger, and would gladly eat the food thus given to animals. One might be led to suppose that this perversity is due to the fact that corn is disagreeable in taste. This is certainly not the case, for during two voyages of seven months each in the United States, Canada, and Mexico, all of them countries in which much corn is eaten, I was able to convince myself that corn meal prepared in various ways tastes very good, and I enjoyed eating corn bread, corn cakes, etc., almost every day. I found these corn foods more palatable in the northern part of the United States, where the sweeter, yellow corn is used, than in Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina, etc., where white corn meal was used in the foods set before me in hotels.

While thus the taste would not be a deterrent factor in the use of corn, the objection might be made that it is hard to digest and also poorly assimilated. This is also certainly not justified, for while partaking of it daily during a long time I never noted any difficulty in the digestion except after having taken too much corn bread. Malfatti also states that corn and rice, as well as fine and medium-fine wheat flour, are well assimilated.

Corn being easily assimilated as well as palatable, most timid people might be afraid of pellagra. Any such fear can at once be allayed, for I never personally heard of a single case of pellagra while in the Northern section of the United States or in Canada, and, since this disease principally occurs among the lower classes in Italy and the Adriatic maritime countries, it may be ascribed to a one-sided diet, just as in beriberi, which affects only the natives of eastern Asia living almost exclusively upon rice. Pellagra is probably caused by bacterial toxins, which are not formed in fresh corn, but in old corn through the decomposition of the gluten in its outer shell. It is most likely, however, that it is the one-sided and scanty food and malnutrition which give rise to pellagra, just as with the rice-eaters beriberi is developed owing to a decreased power of resistance against infection.

We see therefore that there is no valid reason for thus neglecting such a valuable article of diet as corn. The greatest mistake consists in the fact that vegetarian restaurants do not include this article of diet in their rather limited bill of fare, which does not offer many albumin-containing foods, with the exception of certain vegetable fats, and this especially since corn is cheaper than many other cereals, such as wheat, etc.

A multiplicity of palatable foods can be made with corn, such as cakes, corn bread,—the latter of which is best when mixed with rye flour, as it is made in many sections of Hungary, Croatia, and Servia,—gruel, or pap, like the polenta so much used in Italy. Mixed with eggs and milk or water and butter, and baked in a pan, it makes a very agreeable food, “malé,” which is much liked in Hungary and Croatia; these cakes are often spread with honey, which makes them even nicer. In Mexico and California I saw corn prepared as “tamales,” a dish which is flavored with Spanish peppers, “chile.” The flat corn cakes which are used as a breakfast food in the United States have already been referred to. The maizena, “mondamin,” made from cornstarch, when mixed with milk and eggs in the form of “blanc-mange,” is one of the most easily digested foods, probably not surpassed by any in regard to its assimilation by the intestine.

Corn itself, when on the cob, is a much-liked food, when roasted or boiled. In America, corn is thus used as a vegetable, but for weak stomachs or where there is a tendency to intestinal disturbance it should never be indulged in, as it is very indigestible. In addition to its great nutritive value, corn contains certain valuable salts, such as phosphorus. In 100 grams, ac-cording to Schall and Heisler, there is contained 0.689 gram phosphoric acid, and, according to Balland, between 0.2 and 0.35 of phosphorus and 0.47 and 0.80 phosphoric acid; Jebbink states that raw there is 0.83 per cent. and cooked 0.31 per cent.

Corn thus contains considerable amounts of these salts, and particularly of phosphorus, and also appreciable quantities of iron, although of the latter substance more is contained in wheat and oats.

That wheat is a healthful food is shown by the fresh appearance of the people for whom it forms a staple article of diet. The inhabitants of the Franche-Comté in France are characterized by their appearance of robust health. There are probably no more hard-working people than the Italian laborers employed on the railroads, who eat polenta as a daily food; they can endure great fatigue, like carbohydrate-eaters in general, and with it all look to be more healthy than the rice-eaters, since corn also contains albumin and fat, both of which .are poorly represented in rice, as we have seen in the preceding chapter.