Corn is most often thought of as a food or food additive, or as ethanol in the oil and gas industry. However, recent years have seen this dinner staple’s uses greatly expand.
In fact, the bulk of corn produced today is not used for food production. You’re probably using corn in ways that you don’t even realize as you go about your daily business. The countless uses of corn have prompted interest in corn as an investable asset, and prices have surged in recent years as demand for the commodity has increased [for more corn new and analysis subscribe to our free newsletter].
How Corn is Used in Plastic
Plastics do not only consist of synthetic substances – in fact, corn-based plastics have become very popular in recent years as companies strive to find methods for reducing the environmental impact of plastics. Many plastic manufacturers have recognized the importance of finding new and innovative ways to produce their products. These companies have found that using corn decreases their manufacturing expenses since it’s cheaper than oil; for this same reason it’s also more predictable thanks to the decreased dependence on the geopolitical climate in oil-producing countries.
Corn-based plastics use up to 68% less fossil fuels during production than traditional plastics, and are estimated to emit 55% less greenhouse gases. Additionally, many of these plastics are also biodegradable. As the Environmental Protection Agency continues to push for stricter regulations against plastic producers, the need for corn in plastic manufacturing is set to increase. You’ll find corn plastics used in food containers and plastic food packaging, disposable dishware, and even gift cards.
Yes, Corn is in Your Batteries
Ethanol isn’t the only form of energy derived from corn. In addition to fueling our cars, some batteries also contain corn derivatives found in the form of “bioelectricity”. In batteries, cornstarch is often used as an electrical conductor.
It Even Makes You Smell Better...
Cornstarch is a common ingredient in many cosmetic and hygiene items, including deodorants. Many natural or homemade deodorants include cornstarch as an ingredient because of its absorbent nature. Many gel deodorants also contain a corn derivative in the form of denatured alcohol, also known as ethanol. Similarly, hand sanitizer also typically contains ethanol.
...and Eases the Common Cold
Corn syrup is one of the main ingredients in cough drops, as well as many hard candies, providing that flavorful sweetness. It also helps provide the shape and candy-like texture that allows for the wrapping and packaging of individual pieces.
It is beneficial for producers of cough drops to use corn syrup because it’s cheaper than white sugar. Moreover, traditional sugars often form crystals or dust-like particles while blending; luckily, corn syrup doesn’t share this undesirable trait in the manufacturing process.
Where Would Babies Be Without Corn?
You can thank the absorbent nature of cornstarch for its assistance in the production of diapers. Though the absorbent layer found in modern-day diapers is typically made with acrylic acid, a component of ethylene (another derivative of corn), you’ll also find traditional cornstarch used in diaper production. Baby powder, an item which is often used along with diapers, also typically contains cornstarch due to its absorbent nature.
Corn Helps Matches Burn Bright
Corn, and more specifically cornstarch, is a common ingredient in the production of matchsticks. Additionally, matchsticks that are formed on paper or cardstock may include corn products in the paper itself to increase its rigidity. Pellet stoves that burn corn-based pellets are also available for home heating purposes.
From Crop to Medication
Many medications and vitamins contain corn products, particularly cornstarch. The starch is used as a binder, or within the tablet’s coating, and helps drugs to hold their form. Additionally, cornstarch is used as an agent that helps the tablets disintegrate after they are ingested. Many medications delay the activation of their ingredients in order to regulate doses over time. By using a natural product such as corn starch in the coating of tablets, pharmaceutical companies can accurately engineer medications to be as safe and effective as possible. Cornstarch is an appealing ingredient for these uses because it’s a well-researched and natural product that’s easily digested by humans.
Corn is Beneath Our Feet
Carpets and other textile products now make wide use of corn in their production processes. The commodity is often found in petroleum-based textile production, but can also be found in colorings or dyes. Corn-based products are preferable to petroleum-based products in textile production because they are environmentally friendly.
The vast majority of commercially distributed vitamin C is derived from corn. Corn is rich with vitamin C; half a cup of corn contains roughly 33% of your suggested daily intake of vitamin C. This makes it an appealing source for enriching various products, or in the production of vitamin C tablets.
Corn for Crayons
The colorful crayons that children play with can attribute their form to the inclusion of corn-based derivatives. Dextrin, which is made from cornstarch, is used to assist with removing crayons easily from their molds.
Corn products also help the paper labels adhere to crayons. Once crayons are molded, labeled, and packaged, it is corn products that help keep crayons in shape and easy for children to use.
Yogurt and Corn
You’re not likely to see corn-flavored yogurt lining the grocery store shelves any time soon, but corn is an ingredient in many types of yogurt. Corn syrup is used as a sweetener in yogurt, while cornstarch is often used to attain the proper consistency in both yogurt and ice cream.
Corn Holds Our World Together
Glue and other adhesives commonly contain cornmeal or cornstarch. For example, the adhesives used on envelopes are made with cornstarch, which becomes sticky once moistened. Additionally, corn germ, the leftover substance after the oil has been removed from corn, is used to increase the adhesive qualities of industrial glue. The use of corn germ also decreases the price of many of these high-intensity glues, as it replaces some of the resin that’s typically used in fabrication.
A Sweet Tooth for Corn
You’ll generally find corn used in candies and other confectionary items in two ways. First, corn syrup is often used as a sweetener in beverages, candies and other sweets because it is less expensive than cane sugar. Also, candies that are formed in molds often contain cornstarch in order to get the fine details, such as character shapes or imprinted logos, to hold their shape. Secondly, corn products are used to give some types of candies a chewy texture. You’ll find corn used in virtually all types of sweetened products thanks to its sweetness in flavor and versatility.
The Bottom Line
Toothpaste, dish detergent, paper, clothing dyes, explosives and soaps; there is a vast list of products that contain corn products. In fact, it is estimated that one quarter of the items found in a grocery store contain corn in some form. You may not always see it on the ingredient listing for food products, but if you see such ingredients as xanthan gum, polyols (artificial sweeteners) or fructose, there’s a chance corn is hiding away somewhere in those food items. Outside of foods, many petroleum-based production processes are now including corn products in an effort to make manufacturing more environmentally friendly. So, whether you’re for it or against it, the wide range of uses for corn has expanded well beyond the usual suspects. In fact, it’s become rather hard to imagine our world without this diverse and dependable staple.
Disclosure: No positions at time of writing.