Text by Lenny Bedoian • Photography by Scarlett Ciu-ciu
Am I the only who always thought baby corn odd? Who wondered about those succulent little yellow fingers that so often garnished a plate of fine Chinese?

Fruit or Vegetable? GMO? A funky Asian vegetable with a name like Bok Ling that just happens to resemble corn but is totally unrelated to corn?

The answer hit me one day in the supermarket in Thailand. Truth comes in many forms—in this case, in the shape of a ring-finger-sized ear of corn, partially unwrapped from its husk.

What is baby corn?

It's corn, dude.

Maize, snatched before its prime. The veal of vegetables.

Baby corn is corn harvested as the first wisps of silk peek from the ears. Nab those nibblets at just the right moment of divine proportion, while the stalk is still
tender and the kernels sweet. It's not a different species of corn, nor is it a freakazoid frankenfood spliced with guppy genes. It's just baby corn, pure and simple.

Now, surely everyone remembers the story of Thanksgiving—the Indians teaching the starving Pilgrims how to cultivate corn? Corn doesn't come from Europe or Asia—it's indigenous to the Americas.

So, what is it doing as a staple vegetable in a wide range of Asian cuisines? And why, if baby corn is just corn, is it rarely used in American food? Heck, we use corn corn all over the place: nibblets, bread, cobs, pop, creamed, dogs, motor fuel. And yet in America, baby corn is relegated to its bin in the lowly salad bar.

The saga of baby corn begins in the 1970s. Now, of course, baby corn has been around a lot longer than the seventies. In fact, it's been around just as long as corn. But up until the 1970s, it was rarely, if ever, harvested. This is because of the intensive physical labor required to strip the husk

and silk from the supple, underdeveloped ear. No machine has ever been invented with a touch tender enough to shuck that yellow gold.

However, less than three years after the Roe v. Wade decision, baby corn received a big boost. Someone noticed that while baby corn might not be economically viable to grow in North America, there were lots of little hands—idle and nimble—in Asia. Particularly in Thailand where the cost of was living low and the pay for agricultural workers even lower.

In 1976, the Thai government, in collab- oration with the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the Rockefeller Foundation, the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA),

the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT), and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), implemented a plan of aggressive baby corn cultivation.

In 1974, Thailand exported 67 tons of canned baby corn. In 1997, it was 59,584 tons.

Today, Thailand is a world leader in the export of both canned and fresh baby corn.

Many restaurants in Thailand serve big, steaming plates of baby corn sauteed in chili sauce. Not something you would ever want to get here, where the corn is stale, limp, and tasteless...but when those little guys are fresh, they are so good. Fresh baby corn is one of the things that truly

Baby corn in America
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