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This Sweet Corn Is So Good You Can Eat It Raw

By Joe Ward | July 22, 2016 5:35am | Updated on September 1, 2017 5:39am
 Patrick Land (right) buys sweet corn from Cesar Flores, an employee of Twin Garden Farms that produces a popular brand of sweet corn.
Patrick Land (right) buys sweet corn from Cesar Flores, an employee of Twin Garden Farms that produces a popular brand of sweet corn.
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DNAinfo/Joe Ward

This story was originally published July 22, 2016, but the corn is back at the Daley Plaza Farmer's Market now. 

DALEY PLAZA — Corn so good you can eat it raw?

It's true ... and available at a handful of farmers markets in Chicago.

The farmers market at Daley Plaza got a taste on Thursday, with Twin Garden Farms making an appearance with its much sought-after sweet corn that can be eaten uncooked.

That fact took Sarah Gardiner, of Logan Square, by surprise when she was first asked if she wanted to sample the raw sweet corn at the market a few years ago.

"I was like, 'You're giving me a sample of raw corn? I can really eat it raw?'" Gardiner said. "But I tried it, and I knew immediately that I was ruined for all other corn."

Gary Pack, co-owner of Twin Garden Farms, which grows the corn, said no other corn compares.

"It's flat out the best sweet corn there is," said Pack, whose farm is about two hours northwest of Chicago.

With corn season starting this week, vendors for Twin Garden Farms will be visiting area farmers markets selling bags of its beloved sweet corn. But it's not just the Chicago area where the produce is popular: the sweet corn has gone international.

"The seed is sold all over the world," Pack said. "Our main business is seed. We produce it for our archrivals."

Thursday was the first day Twin Garden was at the Daley Plaza farmers market. The farm wasn't sure if the crop would be ready in time, and so only decided on Wednesday night to come out on Thursday.

By about 1:30 p.m. Thursday, the booth virtually sold out of the corn, which is sold in 3-pound bags of six ears for $4.

"It's the sweetest corn you've ever tasted," said Patrick Land, a Pilsen resident who stopped by Daley Plaza on his lunch break to buy some. "You can cook it for one minute, and it's delicious."

Twin Garden Farms has always been a successful grower of sweet corn. Pack said that Jewel used to keep a fleet of trucks at the farm so Chicago area stores could get the corn to stores as quick as possible.

But the farm is always experimenting with developing newer, better corn. One day in the early '90s, they hit the jackpot, Pack said.

The particular brand of sweet corn, named Mirai, was developed when farmers were looking to create a hybrid plant that would be more resistant to disease.

What they produced was a corn that was more disease-resistant but, more importantly, sweeter and more tender than any corn the farmers had ever sampled.

Mirai is heavy on the sweet corn gene that accounts for sweetness, but it also includes each of three distinct sweet corn genes, and the genes are found in each kernel. The sugar content makes each kernel juicy and flavorful enough to eat raw, Pack said.

 Twin Garden Farms' Mirai corn.
Twin Garden Farms' Mirai corn.
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"The kernels are deeper," Pack said. "They're coarse, but they're tender. You bite it, you get a big mouthful of sweet, tender corn."

Pack said he knew he had a great product in his hand, but problems persisted. For one, the kernels were so big that using a mechanized picking process would damage them, Pack said.

"You can't pick it with a machine," Pack said. "It doesn't fit the mass production of the United States."

So, the Mirai strand of corn has become something of a local delicacy, offered at area grocers and, of course, farmers markets.

Plus, he has found a new market that will accommodate the plant's delicacy. Pack said he sells much of his seed to growers in Japan, who operate smaller farms than in America and still pick by hand.

Seed packs are available for backyard growers as well, and Pack said many amateur farmers have success growing the same delicious product that's on sale at local farmer's markets. He said the farm has sold about 10,000 small seed packs to customers this year alone.

And though the corn is delicious raw, Pack said he still fields questions about the best way to prepare it.

"I say, 'If you liked it raw, then why cook it?'" he said. "If they like it warm, I usually tell them to cook how they normally would, but do it in half the time."

Pack said his preferred method of preparing the crop is to husk the corn and boil it for about two minutes.

Pack said spreading salt on the corn is perfectly fine, but he said using butter would be a tragedy.

"It's against the law!" he jokingly said about butter being used on his product. "I've never used it. Who wants a big bite of butter?"

You can find Twin Garden Farms sweet corn at these local markets:

Daley Plaza Farmers Market: Thursdays, 7 a.m.-3 p.m.

Printers Row Farmers Market: Saturday, 7 a.m.-1 p.m.

Beverly Farmers Market: Sundays, 7 a.m.-1 p.m.

Andersonville Farmers Market: Wednesdays, 3 p.m.-8 p.m.

Edgebrook Farmers Market: Saturdays 9 a.m.-1 p.m.

West Lakeview Ward 47 Fresh Market and Artisan Fare: Saturdays 8 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

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