It’s sweet corn season once again, which means it’s time to settle a debate: Is fresh corn actually better than the frozen stuff? Let’s get into it. First, though, let me show my hand and wax poetic about a bizarre yet routine family tradition that occurs in my parents’ home in Pennsylvania every August: a corn-only dinner:
To paint a picture of one such event: It’s the Summer of 2020, and my family has just purchased a bunch of Pennsylvanian sweet corn from an Amish produce stand on the side of the road. I shuck the sheathed stalks myself, meticulously removing the tassel and husk section by section, plucking away any stray silk with my fingertips, then dunking the squeaky ears in water as a formality. It’s a process I repeat 20 consecutive times. Fresh corn—like marriage and conditioning yourself not to say “that’s what she said!”—takes work.
Later, a big ten-gallon pot of boiled salted water sits on the stove, lukewarm, filled to the brim with beautifully golden corn on the cob. I take a pair of tongs, grab an ear for myself, then eat it over the sink. My mom sits at the dining room table, sprays I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter onto each cob, then gently sprinkles on some low-sodium salt before chomping into the deliciously sweet and buttery kernels. My dad eats his corn while sitting on the couch in the living room. Nobody talks. The sounds of ravenous corn-eating echo throughout every room of the house.
After our private corn festival, my dad tells me that he doesn’t like to put the eaten cobs of corn in the trash because “the dogs will get to it.” So he hands them to me to throw across the street. So I stand at the edge of our yard, chucking eaten cobs of corn into the weeds and shrubbery across the road while my dad offers encouragement like, “Atta boy, Danno!” and “Nice throw, kid!” I throw cob after cob of corn, only stopping if a car randomly turns onto our street so as to not hit it with corn, and I realize two things: One, it’s just the beginning of corn season in Pennsylvania and I’m going to be throwing a lot of corn across the street. And two: I have spent way too much time back home with my family during the pandemic.
As much as I love fresh corn, there is much to be said about the frozen stuff. Frozen corn, like most frozen fruits and vegetables, is actually quite nutritious. A study at the University of Cailfornia-Davis found frozen corn contains more vitamin C than fresh corn. It’s also got a lot of fiber. According to Healthline, corn may aid with digestive health and eye health. All corn is high in carbohydrates, and therefore sugar, which is why it’s so damn delicious. In short, any type of corn consumed in low quantities is a relatively good thing, but if it’s frozen, you might be seeing some additional health benefits.
Frozen corn’s biggest contribution, though, is its vast utility. Like other frozen vegetables, corn is a valuable ammunition to have stocked in your freezer to call into action when you’re making a stir fry, biryani, curry, or cold salads, creamy sides, and the like. In this frozen vs. fresh debate, it should also be noted that frozen corn often competes with canned corn. The shelf-life of canned corn is also incredible (usually three to five years) and it doesn’t need to be refrigerated. Canned corn is also pretty natural. According to the ingredients on a can of Great Value, it contains only: water, salt, and corn. According to the Louis Bonduelle foundation, there are no preservatives at all in canned vegetables. Plus, canned corn comes ready to eat, whereas frozen corn needs to be thawed and reheated. Personally, I don’t understand the purpose of frozen kernels of corn all that much when the canned stuff is readily available.
Then there’s frozen cobs of corn. Although these might be useful when feeding a big group of people, like in a school cafeteria, frozen corn on the cob comes up short compared to the pure experience of eating a fresh ear of corn. Frozen corn cobs lack the sweet and crisp taste, and the delightful texture we get from a fresh ear of sweet corn. Texture is the biggest difference between fresh corn and canned or frozen, in my opinion. A perfectly cooked ear of corn has such a perfectly firm yet soft texture, whereas frozen corn can sometimes feel rubbery and the canned stuff is almost too soft.
Fresh corn is a thing of beauty. It takes work to prepare, but it’s worth it. The experience of eating a fresh ear of corn with butter simply can’t be replicated with the frozen or canned stuff. When I think of fresh corn, I think specifically of sweet corn—the stuff that’s only around seasonally, and is so special that eating it becomes its own event. This style of corn is a natural mutation that is believed to have emerged in Pennsylvania in the mid-18th century. When you combine this naturally sweet corn with a good high-butterfat Amish or Irish butter—the taste is unbeatable. This combination provides one of the most decadent experiences you can have eating a vegetable. And that is why my parents have a voracious corn-only dinner every August.
Although frozen corn may offer more functions and mild health benefits, friends, there is just nothing like a fresh ear of sweet corn. It is a perpetually satisfying treat and an American staple. I would go so far as to say that sweet corn is one of the nation’s most underrated seasonal crops. Much is said of berries, tomatoes, and peppers, but don’t forget that corn literally fuels the modern world.
When it comes to frozen vs. fresh corn, fresh wins. And frozen might even be third behind canned corn.