At first I thought it was someone’s art project using colored dyes, but this Glass Gem corn is real. Research supports claims that colorful foods can help us live long healthy lives. Below is both the story behind this colorful corn and why colorful foods promote longevity.
The translucent rainbow kernels look more like Swarovski crystals than food. But how did these brilliant kernels come to be?
Glass Gem corn, a unique variety of rainbow-colored corn, became an internet sensation in 2012 …. Shortly after, the company that sells the rare seeds, Native Seeds, began ramping up production to meet the high demand. The Arizona-based company still sells Glass Gem seeds on its website. … the story behind Glass Gem … begins with one man, Carl Barnes, who set out to explore his Native American roots.
The history was largely retold by Barnes’ protegee, Greg Schoen, in 2012, when the corn gained national attention.
… In growing these older corn varieties, Barnes was able to isolate ancestral types that had been lost to Native American tribes when they were relocated to what is now Oklahoma in the 1800s. This led to an exchange of ancient corn seed with people he had met and made friends with all over the country.
At the same time, Barnes began selecting, saving, and replanting seeds from particularly colorful cobs.
Over time, this resulted in rainbow-colored corn.
… Barnes gave Schoen some of the rainbow seed. Schoen planted the first seeds that summer. … In the beginning, Schoen only grew small amounts of the colorful corn in New Mexico, where he moved in 1999. … In 2005, Schoen began growing larger plots of the rainbow corn near Sante Fe, alongside more traditional varieties. When the rainbow corn mixed with the traditional varieties it created new strains. Each year of successive planting, the corn displayed more vibrant colors and vivid patterns. According to an account from Schoen, Barnes told him that the rainbow seed originally came from a crossing of “Pawnee miniature popcorns with an Osage red flour corn and also another Osage corn called ‘Greyhorse.’”
Schoen took to naming the various colors and patterns that emerged — “circus colors,” “true rainbow,” “deep blue,” and so on.
“Glass Gems,” seen here, was the title that Schoen came up with for a blue-green and pink-purple corn he grew in 2007. This is the original picture that went viral in 2012, turning the unique-colored corn into an Internet sensation.
What does Glass Gem corn taste like?
Unlike sweet corn, Glass Gem corn isn’t generally eaten off the cob. Glass Gem is known as flint corn. The name ‘flint’ comes from the kernel’s hard outer-layer. Most people grind it up into cornmeal and use it in tortillas or grits because it’s very starchy.
What is flint corn?
Flint corn (Zea mays var. indurata; also known as Indian corn or sometimes calico corn) is a variant of maize, the same species as common corn. Because each kernel has a hard outer layer to protect the soft endosperm, it is likened to being hard as flint; hence the name.
In looking at how far back in history we have eaten corn, it is interesting to note that corn wasn’t always corn.
The word “corn” comes from an old german/french word. In most uses before the 1600’s, corn meant the major crop for one particular area or region. In England, corn meant wheat; in Scotland or Ireland, it most likely means oats. There is even mention of corn in the King James Bible. This was translated several times and hundreds of years before maize arrived in Europe. The “corn” of the Bible most likely means the wheat and barley that were grown in the Middle East at the time. …
So how can Indian corn have kernels of different colors?
The same way that you and your siblings look different. Each kernel is a different seed, so each is a different potential plant. … different kernels could be different colors, either from random assortment and mendelian genetics, or from different pollens meeting different eggs.
Each kernel can have different physical traits (color in this case) due to different genetics since each is a genetic sibling, but, still, how do different colored kernels actually get their colors? The answer seems to be differences in bioflavonoids like anthocyanins and proanthocyanidins, or conditions like pH which change these bioflavonoids.
Many of the foods that we eat, including dark chocolate, strawberries, blueberries, cinnamon, pecans, walnuts, grapes, and cabbage, contain flavonoids. These chemicals lower cholesterol levels, and many have antioxidant properties. Anthocyanins and proanthocyanidins, and the reddish-brown pigment theaflavin found in tea, act to create color, while most other flavonoids are visible only under UV light. … Flavonoids include red, purple, or blue anthocyanins, as well as white or pale yellow compounds such as rutin, quercetin, and kaempferol. Anthocyanins play a role in the colors of ripening fruit. They are found in most other plant parts and in most genera. Anthocyanin pigments take their color from the range of red, purple, or blue, depending on their pH.
What are flavonoids?
Flavonoids are secondary metabolites of plants that impart coloration to most flowers, fruits and seeds.
Evolutionarily, why have different colors in fruit? Flavonoids that give fruit colors are not just there to attract pollinators and seed dispersers, they seem to also protect plants from DNA damage.
Diverse flavonoid compounds are widely distributed in angio- sperm families. Flavonoids absorb radiation in the ultraviolet (UV) region of the spectrum, and it has been proposed that these compounds function as UV filters. We demonstrate that the DNA in Zea mays plants that contain flavonoids (primarily anthocyanins) is protected from the induction of damage caused by UV radiation relative to the DNA in plants that are genetically deficient in these compounds. … DNA damage protective properties of flavonoids are well reported.
This brings us to our main point, that we humans are attracted to color variations in our foods, like glass gem corn, for good reasons. Eating a variety of colors of fresh organic produce is a sure method to get many nutrients like vitamins and minerals, as well as protective flavonoids. Think about this in your food choices and your DNA will thank you, and this strategy may keep you looking and feeling younger.
Note: You will read that there is no evidence that things like quercetin are useful:
While quercetin supplements have been promoted for the treatment of cancer and various other diseases, there is no evidence that quercetin (via supplements or in food) is useful to treat cancer or any disease. The US FDA has issued warning letters to emphasize that quercetin is neither a defined nutrient nor an antioxidant, cannot be assigned a dietary content level, and is not regulated as a drug to treat any human disease.
This statement is suspicious to me because there is research showing benefits. Here is one example:
A low dose of quercetin exerted cancer cell-specific inhibition of proliferation and this inhibition resulted from cell cycle arrest at the G1 phase.
It’s your choice to follow recent research or the FDA disclaimers. I tend to put my trust in scientists more than in policy makers tied to financial interests, but each person will have a his/her own strategy.
Aging is a process of accumulated cellular damage over time. The more you protect your DNA, repair it and also discard the most damaged (aged or senescent) cells, the slower you will appear to age physically.
Elimination of senescent cells ameliorates a number of pathologies. … Organismal aging is a multifactorial process characterized by the onset of degenerative conditions and cancer. One of the key drivers of aging is cellular senescence, a state of irreversible growth arrest induced by many pro-tumorigenic stresses. Senescent cells accumulate late in life and at sites of age-related pathologies, where they contribute to disease onset and progression through complex cell and non-cell autonomous effects. …
Accordingly, a prolonged healthspan is obtained by pharmacological interventions using a novel class of drugs termed senolytics, used to selectively ablate senescent cells . Senolytic interventions not only demonstrated the feasibility of extending healthspan but also evidenced the alleviation of a wide range of pre-existent age-related symptoms including: improved cardiovascular function, reduced osteoporosis and frailty; enhanced adipogenesis, reduced lipotoxicity and increased insulin sensitivity; improved established vascular phenotypes associated with aging and chronic hypercholesterolemia; as well as radioprotection and rejuvenation of aged-tissue stem cells.
While investing in future senolytic drugs may be a good business move, foods with natural flavonoids are available now.
You may recall that the longest lived human (confirmed) ate a lot of chocolate, two pounds a week.
By her own estimations, Madame Jeanne-Louise Calment, the oldest person who ever lived, enjoyed an incredible 2.2lbs of chocolate a week, roughly about two Raaka Coconut Milk bars a day! She lived a legendary 122 years, from February 21st, 1875, to August 4th, 1997. The Madame was a supercentenarian in every sense of the word. Did the cacao flavanols keep her heart pumping strong? Is she an example of cacao’s unique ability to improve blood flow to the heart and the brain, as we showed you last month? … Calment enjoyed copious amounts of olive oil, a bit of port wine, fencing, and riding her bicycle.
Olive oil is another age protector, according to research. It reportedly kills cancer cells, and extra virgin olive oil’s phenolic compounds protect bones, for example, by encouraging new cell growth.
Jeanne Calment spent her life doing almost everything that doctors advise against if you want to live a long life. She smoked, she drank, she played with guns, she ate excessive amounts of sugar and red meat, and she never ate breakfast, save for a cup or two of coffee. … Until she was 116 years old, she’d finish all meals with a dessert, usually eating about two pounds of chocolate per week. … When she could, she’d cover her meals in olive oil, attributing her health to an abundance of it, inside and out.
If you are interested in aging or if you just think aging is getting old and you’d like to give it a rest, you might enjoy this book:
Ending Aging: The Rejuvenation Breakthroughs that Could Reverse Human Aging in Our Lifetime is a 2007 book written by Aubrey de Grey, a biomedical gerontologist, …
The book assumes the 7 causes of biological aging are an accumulation of seven types of damage (which we can start to reverse or correct in various ways):
- Mitochondrial DNA mutations
- Nuclear DNA mutations
- Intercellular junk (e.g. lipofuscin)
- Extracellular junk (e.g. beta amyloids)
- Glycation (stiffens tissues leading to stroke, heart disease, etc.)
- Cells not dying when they are supposed to (e.g. cancer)
- Cells dying when they are not supposed to
What one can do right now without drugs to enhance health is a fun area to research.
Tips for longevity
Take a brisk 45 min walk daily, break a sweat a few times a week, meditate, get enough quality sleep, eat organic, plenty of colorful fresh fruits and veggies, grow some of your own food, have clean air and water, socialize, avoid accidents, steer clear of toxic situations, move away from pollution, limit DNA damaging radiation and chemicals, get some sun, laugh when you can, have hobbies that keep life interesting and fun, help others.
While glass gem corn itself may have no special role in longevity, (no research has been done, AFAIK) it is a colorful reminder that we are naturally attracted by flavonoids to healthy foods.