When picturing a fresh ear of corn on the cob, you probably think of bright yellow kernels or speckles of white and yellow all lined up in pretty rows. But did you know there is an edible variety of corn that looks like tiny pieces of colored glass formed into a mosaic rainbow?
It’s called Glass Gem Corn, and it’s a relatively new variety that’s been gaining attention in fields and kitchens all over the world in the past decade. In 2010, Seeds Trust posted this photo of Glass Gem Corn on its Facebook page, and word spread quickly.
There is also an entire Facebook group dedicated to this variety of corn that looks more like jewelry or stained glass than a vegetable, and it has more than 20,000 followers. Just think about that: 20,000 people went out of their way to follow a Facebook group for a vegetable!
Glass Gem Corn comes from an Oklahoma farmer named Carl Barnes, whose family roots can be traced to the Cherokee Nation. Barnes started experimenting with planting old Native American corn seeds, and in the process, he isolated variants that matched with traditional corns lost to native tribes. He re-introduced those types to the elders of the tribes, Mother Earth News said, helping them reclaim a part of their culinary identities.
He also started combining those heirloom Native American seeds with other colorful corn seeds from the southwestern United States. The union of these different corn seeds created the colorful cobs known as Glass Gem Corn.
In 1995, Barnes passed his seeds on to a younger farmer named Greg Schoen. Fast forward to 2010, when Schoen shared some of them with another farmer, Bill McDorman, who was an avid seedsman. McDorman planted the seeds and couldn’t believe the results.
“I was blown away,” McDorman said in a 2013 article posted to Native Seeds/SEARCH. “No one had ever seen corn like this before.”
But, you don’t have to be a scientist to plant your own patch of these ears of colored corn in a garden. Etsy shops like SherwoodsSeeds are filled with packets of Glass Gem Corn seeds ranging anywhere from $2 to $40 per shipment, depending on how many seeds you want. Native Seeds/SEARCH also sells them directly online.
The seeds take a few months to grow. Schoen himself recommends putting them in rows 30 inches apart with a gap of 6-12 inches between each cluster of three to four seeds, according to Dengarden. Leave a gap between clusters of about 3-4 feet. Plant in full sun when soil is at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit and protect them from wind. You’ll want to provide your plants with about an inch of water per week.
The stalks can get up to 9 feet high, and the kernels will appear white before the colors develop, so be patient. You’ll be able to harvest them about 110-120 days after planting. A post on the Facebook page says you should wait until the husks are yellowed and dry before you pick them in order to get the best color results.
Recommended uses for Glass Gem corn include making it into popcorn or grounding it into flour. It is not like sweet corn, so you probably wouldn’t want to eat it off the cob. We also think it would be a great way to decorate your home for the fall season!