This is the time of year when orange-colored candy corn starts showing up in stores as a holiday treat — but researchers at Iowa State University believe some real orange-colored corn can become a life altering staple in developing countries. I.S.U. collaborated with other researchers to study corn bred to contain increased levels of beta-carotene — a good source of Vitamin A. Researcher Wendy White says that’s important, especially in Africa.
White says the first solid food often given to children in Africa after they are weaned is a corn or maize porridge. She says it’s an ingenuous idea as the maize porridge is very starchy and very filling. The downside is that the maize lacks a lot of nutritional value.
She says the maize porridge contains very few vitamins and minerals and almost no protein, so this new type of maize would improve the vitamin content of the maize used in the porridges.
Adding the beta-carotene to the corn has another advantage, as it turns the corn an orange color. White says the yellow corn that was sent to starving countries was often corn really meant for cattle feed, and did not grind well for cooking, or taste that good either.
“There’s a stigma associated with yellow corn, it’s associated with times when people are suffering or starving, and associated with a bad taste, and also maybe not easy to work with for women who are already overburdened in terms of their workload,” White explains.
White says after finding they could breed the beta-carotene into the corn, there were tests done to see if Africans would eat it.
She says they found that Africans would accept the orange maize with some education about the benefits for their kids health, but they wouldn’t accept the yellow maize. White says studies at I.S.U. carried it further and tested to see if the beta-carotene in the corn could be absorbed by people’s digestive systems.
White says this was important because the beta-carotene in many plants has a low absorption rate — for example, less than eight percent of the beta-carotene in carrots can be absorbed. She says they had predicted low absorption, but found it was actually twice as good as they predicted, giving the orange corn twice the health benefits they predicted.
White says the results show the great possibilities of the orange corn and they hope to be able to start using it in sub-Saharan Africa by 2012.