I love corn. Whether it’s fresh corn-on-the-cob, frozen corn, canned corn, or popcorn, there can never be too much corn. So when I heard about corn shoots (also known as popcorn shoots, popcorn sprouts, corn shoot microgreens, corn sprouts, popcorn microgreens, or sprouted popcorn), I was intrigued. Another way to get the taste of sweet corn? Why not?
The maize variety that produces regular popcorn kernels, Zea mays everta, is the same one used to grow popcorn shoots. Corn shoots grow in much the same way as other microgreens—in a shallow container with potting soil being the preferred growing medium.
The main difference between growing corn microgreens versus other microgreens is the lack of sun. While most types of microgreens are sun-lovers, corn shoots grow best in the dark. This is to bring out the sweetness of the corn.
This growing process is called blanching. It involves the absence of light when growing young shoots to prevent photosynthesis from kicking in. There is less chlorophyll (which gives plants their green color) resulting in paler-looking plants. That’s why corn shoots have a straw-yellow color.
Exposure to light turns these sweet yellow shoots green and fibrous, making them unpleasant and bitter-tasting.
Let’s take a closer look at how to grow corn shoots.
Are corn shoots sprouts or microgreens?
There’s a lot of confusion about what technically constitutes sprouts vs. microgreens. These two terms are often used interchangeably which adds to the chaos.
What’s the difference?
Sprouts are germinated seeds that are soaked in water. They do not require any sunlight to grow. They are eaten whole, from root to shoot.
Microgreens grow much the same way as regular vegetable, herb or edible flower plants. Seeds are densely sown in soil (although hydroponic and soilless options exist). They are harvested when they are only a few inches tall, well before they develop their mature leaves.
The corn shoots (or popcorn shoots) we’re referring to in this post are more like microgreens because they are planted in your growing medium like regular microgreens. However, shoots are usually harvested a tad bit earlier than regular microgreens, before leaves appear.
How long does it take to sprout corn?
Roughly between 7 to 12 days. In less than two weeks, you’ll have some delicious corn shoots to grace your plate.
You don’t want to wait too long before harvesting your tasty edible shoots. Harvest them when they are still tender and before they grow too many leaves.
Popcorn microgreens nutrition
Rich in protein, fiber, and calcium, corn shoots offer a healthy and tasty way to get your nutrients. Corn shoots provide 4 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber in each serving which is roughly equal to 16 percent DV. It also contains 100 milligrams of calcium per serving (10 percent DV).
Tender and sweet, these corn microgreens contain essential vitamins and nutrients including:
- Vitamins A, B, C, and E
- Pantothenic acid
- Trace amounts of potassium
How to grow corn shoots
Can you grow popcorn shoots from store-bought popcorn kernels? Apparently you can, —although I’ve never tried. Only use whole popcorn kernels (not microwave popcorn), and preferably ones that haven’t been sitting for years.
There are also many reputable seed companies selling corn shoot seeds which is preferable. Most store-bought varieties may have added oil or other flavorings which you might not want when growing popcorn shoots. Quality seeds also improve the chances of you producing higher yielding, healthier plants.
What you’ll need:
- Shallow containers with drainage holes (you can buy grow trays or use aluminum pie or casserole tins, or clear plastic produce clamshell packages).
- Potting soil
- Small piece of cardboard
- Spray bottle filled with water
- A lid for the container (optional)
- Gloves (optional)
While it’s possible to grow popcorn shoots via hydroponic methods, we’re using potting soil in this post. If you’re planning on using regular popcorn kernels, you’ll need to pre-sprout them first which requires a bit of extra work.
If you’re using store-bought popcorn shoots seeds, it’s best to follow the instructions on the packet. The following is only intended as a general guideline for store-bought popcorn shoots seeds.
Step 1: Soak seeds
It’s vital to soak corn seeds, or they won’t sprout—do not skip this step! Soak seeds overnight in lukewarm water (or at least 8 hours). Water should cover the seeds by a couple of inches. This serves to break down the outer protective layer and helps seeds to germinate.
After soaking, drain, and rinse the seeds.
Step 2: Fill container(s) with potting soil
Ensure the container you’re using has drainage holes. Microgreens that don’t drain properly are prone to mold growth.
Fill the container with 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5.1 centimetres) of potting soil. The potting soil doesn’t need to be fancy, but of a decent quality.
Use a small piece of cardboard to gently level the soil. You don’t want the soil to be too compressed, so just press down lightly.
Step 3: Mist the soil
Using your spray bottle, gently mist the soil to prepare for planting.
Step 4: Sow seeds
Microgreens seeds are typically densely sown, and planting corn shoots is no different. Don’t worry if your seeds touch each other. There should be a single, thin layer of seeds that covers the surface of the soil.
Use the cardboard to gently press the seeds down into the soil.
Step 5: Watering and storing
Place a lid over the seeds to prevent any exposure to light. Remember that any exposure to light will alter the taste, texture, and color of the corn shoots.
Keep your popcorn shoots in a dark place such as a windowless basement, or a cupboard. Use a spray bottle to keep soil moist as needed. Avoid watering too much as this causes mold growth.
Step 6: Harvesting
After 7 to 12 days, your popcorn shoots should be ready to harvest. They should look pale yellow (or very pale green), and be roughly 2 inches tall (5.1 centimeters).
Use a clean, sharp knife, or scissors to cut the stems just above the soil line. Rinse before eating.
What are popcorn shoots used for?
As popcorn shoots are so tender and sweet with a slightly crunchy texture, many people use it as a garnish for main dishes as well as desserts. Have fun with them and be creative! Try using them in:
- Wraps and sandwiches
- Desserts as a garnish
- Paired with meat dishes for a sweet/savory combination
Check out this recipe for pizza using popcorn shoots:
This garden fresh pizza features cherry tomatoes, artichokes, asparagus, pickled rhubarb, feta, and is topped with sweet popcorn shoots (via Hallmark Channel).