By Angie House

When you think of multi-coloured roses, do you stop and wonder: “How did they do that?” It must surely be an unnatural phenomenon, right? That was exactly my thought the first time I saw a picture of rainbow corn.  It’s far too beautiful to be natural–it must be fake. 

In our ever-evolving Instagram-worthy world where just about everything is almost too beautiful to be real, we can’t always believe what we see in images anymore.

A picture may speak a thousand words; although, with photoshop and other imaging-editing programmes, we can’t take what we see at face value. The sceptic in me overruled, my next thought was that it’s definitely too pretty to eat. I thought, “They must have done that genetic-modification-science thingy to make it so pretty.” 

You may call me cynical, but I was pleasantly surprised to be proven wrong. To my surprise–yes, rainbow corn is, in fact, actually all natural and edible. Thank all that is good, because one of my first foodie loves is warm, buttered, fresh-off-the-stove popped corn. These rainbow seeds are evidence of nature in all its wonder and glory. This revelation casts a whole new light to the phrase a “pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.”

So Corny

In Middle America, where trows of cornfields prominently line highways, you can imagine how this crop has risen in popularity to a dinner-table staple. Having grown up in the state of Nebraska, USA, I found it was curious that I’d not seen or heard of its rainbow variety until recently. However, I can’t unsee it now, and nor would I want to. It’s like that scene in the Wizard of Oz where everything dramatically changes from black-and-white into colour as Dorothy first emerges in the fantasy world somewhere over the rainbow. Once having seen the corn in living colours–in sky blues and silvers, fiery sunset hues, emerald greens, translucent pink, and lavender purple–is hard to imagine the world (of corn, of course) in only shades of ivory and yellow.  

A-Maize-Ing Ear Of Corn!

Rainbow corn is native to North America, and has a hard outer layer making it almost glassy in appearance. It is called “flint”,“Indian”, or “calico” corn. The main difference between calico corn and the traditional yellow or white corn is purely based on how it is used. Nutritionally and flavour wise, it is exactly the same. You can eat classic sweet yellow corn right off the cob, while rainbow corn is a little too tough to prepare that way. Therefore, the coloured corn is usually ground up and used for cornmeal, tortillas, or even grits due to its starchy quality. It can also be popped. However, don’t set your hopes on a bowl of colourful party snacks as it doesn’t maintain its colour once popped. 

More traditionally, however, you will see this special genetic corn variety used in crafts and decorations. It can be found as a particularly popular centrepiece adorning dining tables during the late autumn holidays in the U.S. 

There’s No Place Like Home

You may be wondering, what is the back story? Where did this eye-catching phenomenon come from? 

It all started with a farmer by the name of Carl Barnes, also known as White Eagle in his Native American culture. Looking to develop a deeper connection with his heritage, Barnes began planting a variety of old Cherokee corn handed down by his ancestors. 

The seedlings originally came from cross-breeding strains from the Pawnee miniature popcorn with an Osage red-flour version and another Osage corn, Greyhorse. From those combinations, rainbow corn was born. With each harvest, White Eagle took the seeds from the most colourful cobs and began replanting, thereby increasing the hyper-pigmented, ultra-vivid, glass-like rainbow coloured corn that is popular around the world today. Before he passed away in 2016, Barnes saw his seeds reach people all over the world with a little help from a few special friends. Now that’s a colourful backstory.

Over The Rainbow

If you’re feeling inspired and ready to grow your own variety of rainbow corn and post some “a-maize-ing” Instagram photos of your own, you’ll find the seeds online from a company called Seed Trust based out of Southern Arizona, USA. It is no surprise, the colourful seeds are in extremely high demand and so you may have to join their waitlist.  

While you’re eagerly waiting to become the next rainbow corn farmer, join the thousands of rainbow-corn fans sharing photos of their rainbow corn achievements and raving about these pretty little seeds on the Facebook fan page.