There’s a saying in Mexico: sin maíz, no hay país. It means without corn, there is no country.
This isn’t really an overstatement — corn has been domesticated in Mexico since at least 2,500 B.C., and it’s still the most important ingredient in the Mexican diet. Corn is used in everything from tortillas to soups and beverages, and the husks (and occasionally fresh corn leaves, when in season) are used to wrap tamales. I’ve even had charred cornsilk in certain types of atole.
Mexico is connected to corn in a way that I can’t fathom as an American who grew up in California. But living in Mexico for four years, I developed a deep appreciation for corn and its history, and its array of colors and textures. Taking pictures of Mexican corn seemed like a natural thing, in my eyes. How else do you capture a thing of beauty?
Here’s a small selection of corn photos from my archives. Feel free to share your favorite corn dish in the comments!
Shedding the papery skins of dried blue corn, to prepare it for nixtamal
Sopa de milpa — corn, squash, and squash blossoms — at a restaurant in Puebla.
Elote cacahuazintle, a variety of corn that’s often dried and used in pozole.
Nixtamalized corn — that’s dried corn treated with calcium hydroxide — in Hidalgo, Mexico.
Purple corn husks!
Elote desgranado, or fresh shucked corn, at the Tuesday market in Santiago Tianguistenco, Estado de México.
Fresh huitlacoche, still on the cob, also at the Tuesday Santiago Tianguistenco market.
Blue corn esquites with epazote in San Pedro Atocpan, Mexico City.
Fresh, shucked criollo corn in Milpa Alta, Mexico City.
Salting elote near the Alameda Central, Mexico City.
A huitlacoche quesadilla, mixed with corn, at a street stand in Mexico City.
Corn drying in the sun in Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca.
Reyna Mendoza toasts corn on a comal, in Teotiitlán del Valle, Oaxaca
Grilled elotes at a street stand in Mexico City.
A mural depicting corn stalks (with human heads for the ears!) in Cacaxtla, an archaeological site in Tlaxcala that flourished between the 7th and 10th centuries.