The hard, multicolored ears of corn that decorate tabletops and front doors around this time of year are, in theory, edible. If you cooked ornamental corn and ate it right off the cob, it would taste pretty bland, but it wouldn’t hurt you, according to Edith Munro, communications manager for the Iowa Corn Growers Association.
That’s because it’s all starch. During the early stages of corn’s maturation process, the kernels are filled with a milky material that is primarily sugars, which is why it tastes so sweet when it’s cooked. As the corn continues to age, however, those sugars break down into starches.
“Gradually, corn has been bred to retain its sweetness,” Munro says, as well as for its uniform yellow coloring. Corn that’s not commercially bred has been lumped into the genre of “Indian corn.” Some varieties of Indian corn are now grown for ornamental use only.
Other varieties of colored corn are still grown and used for food. They’re generally ground into cornmeal and eaten in the form of tacos, corn chips, and so on. (See some Chowhound recommendations for blue corn.)