What Are Corn Nuts? Are They Nuts? Corn?

When searching for something salty to munch on, I frequently pass over corn nuts, barely registering that they are there. But they’re always there. It seems like they’ve been there forever. Not everybody likes corn nuts, but those that do like them, love them. These corn nut zealots have kept corn nuts going for decades. But what are corn nuts? How are corn nuts made? What are corn nuts made of? Are corn nuts fried? Are corn nuts vegan? Let’s finally figure out, what is a corn nut?

What are corn nuts?

So are corn nuts actually corn or nuts? Corn nuts are not nuts, but they are corn! Glad we settled that! A corn nut is a kernel of dried, fried corn. Corn nuts come from a very old snack called parched corn. Native Americans carried parched corn as a light, nutritionally dense snack. 

Parched corn’s popularity spread over the years. Colonists packed parched corn to snack on as they rode on the Oregon Trail. Ford the river, watch out for dysentery, and pack your parched corn. In 1936, a guy from Oakland, California named Albert Holloway packaged and sold his own version of parched corn and named it Olin’s Brown Jug Toasted Corn. Eventually, he renamed it Corn Nuts, because Olin’s Brown Jug Toasted Corn is a bit of a mouthful (much like corn nuts themselves). Holloway sold this salty specialty to bars as something to snack on alongside a few beers. And today, the Corn Nuts brand is a gas station snack staple. 

How are corn nuts made?

So how exactly do you make parched corn? What are corn nuts made of? Well, old school parched corn can be made by frying up dried corn. You just need a corn cob whose kernels have dried out completely. Throw those kernels into a pan with oil, season them up, and cook until they pop! But, wait, wouldn’t that make popcorn? Corn nuts are not popcorn. The difference between corn nuts and popcorn is the type of corn used. 

There are many types of corn. Corn grown in the U.S. that’s meant to be eaten is usually sweet corn. Then there’s feed corn that’s meant for livestock. Corn nuts are made using a type of corn called “waxy” corn. Waxy corn is very starchy and mainly used as a thickening agent. Holloway crossbred waxy corn with a nutty Peruvian corn variety called “choclo” to make a perfect, large kernel that transforms into corn nuts.

So, who can eat corn nuts? Are corn nuts vegan? 

Just about anyone that loves salty snacks! As mentioned above, corn nuts are not nuts, so if you’re allergic to nuts, you can breathe a sigh of relief. Corn nuts are definitely fried, so keep that in mind. Corn nuts are a great vegan snack and are one hundred percent plant-based. Even most of their flavor varieties, such as BBQ, are vegan. Though, some of them sneak in that dreaded ingredient known as “flavoring” so proceed at your own risk there. 

About the Author

Will Morgan

Will Morgan, a freelance contributor to Sporked, is an L.A. based writer, actor, and sketch comedy guy. Originally from Houston, TX, he strongly believes in the superiority of breakfast tacos to breakfast burritos. Will traveled the world as one of those people that did yoyo shows at elementary school assemblies, always making a point to find local and regional foods to explore in whatever place he was, even in rinky-dink towns like Tilsonberg, ON. Will spends his birthdays at Benihana’s. Let him know if can make it.

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