Corn is both nutritious and highly versatile. It shows up in world cuisines in the form of kernels, meal, grits and polenta, along with the American favorite, corn on the cob. As a snack, it is popular in popcorn form, introduced to American settlers by Native Americans. Corn nuts, a less familiar form for many, are also a snack food. One makes them by toasting whole corn kernels.
The corn nut is a 20th century American creation. The first ones used standard corn kernels. After some experimentation and research into improving the original product, the creator discovered a variety of corn from Peru that produced 1-inch (2.54-cm) kernels, more than twice the size of American sweet corn. The first corn nuts to be marketed in the United States using giant Cusco corn kernels debuted in the 1960s.
Snack food manufacturers that produce corn nuts use a hybrid corn that produces extra-large kernels. The retail versions of corn nut snacks start with a water soak that plumps the kernels before cooking. Once the kernels are ready for cooking, manufacturers add seasonings. They then roast the corn kernels in an oven until they are crunchy or fry them in oil. Kernels prepared by frying may have more calories than toasted ones.
Commercially produced corn nuts come in a variety of flavors. Plain corn nuts commonly only have salt added during preparation. Commonly available seasonings include fiery corn nuts with cayenne or chili pepper, ranch flavored and barbecue. Salsa and nacho cheese flavors also appear in some product lines.
Corn is a super food that has sustained various cultures that have harvested it or learned to grow it outside its native regions. It belongs to the vegetable group and the grains food group. Toasted corn nuts have the same nutritional profile as regular corn before any seasonings are added. They provide protein, vitamin C, calcium, iron, dietary fiber and carbohydrates. These heart-healthy treats contain fat, but it is mostly unsaturated, and corn nuts contain no cholesterol.
Corn is not the only seed that produces a tasty snack food. Soy nuts and roasted chickpeas are often available in health food stores. One must cook these legumes before roasting them. Once fully cooked, they are ready to be roasted or fried to produce a crunchy, portable treat. Each one has its own natural flavor, though one also can add seasonings during preparation to complement those flavors.