Super-sweet Amaize corn comes to Sacramento markets

Sweet corn ranks among summer’s favorite fresh delicacies. Making it sweeter while still retaining its distinct corn crunch and flavor has been a continuing challenge for corn hybridizers.

Idaho corn breeders George Crookham and Bruce Hodbey worked on that dilemma for decades before they came up with what they think is the perfect ear. Now, their Amaize sweet white corn is in select markets around the country, including Sacramento.

Heralded by tasting panels and individual reviewers, Amaize has earned raves. Sacramento produce expert Michael Marks called it “dessert on the cob.”

“The feedback for Amaize has been awesome,” said Greg Corrigan, Raley’s senior director of produce. “Everyone that we spoke to has told us what a great corn it is.”

In our own taste test, the corn had an almost honeylike sweetness but stayed crisp and crunchy when cooked.

“Amaize is my life’s work,” Crookham said. “I have tasted literally over 50,000 ears of corn over 40 years and, together with my breeding partner (Hobdey), pursued an insatiable quest for sweet-corn perfection. Amaize is hands-down the best sweet corn ever.”

They did it the old-fashioned way, breeding one plant to another until they came up with just the right combination of parents, Hodbey said.

“People always ask, ‘How did you do it?’ ” he said. “This was developed by traditional breeding, not genetically modified. This is non-GMO.”

At their southwest Idaho test farm, the team worked on Amaize for 22 years, testing more than 10,000 different hybrids, before they settled on the best one.

“We started back in the late 1980s,” Hodbey said in a phone interview. “This corn is not just sweet, it’s crunchy. When cooked, most corn loses a huge part of that crispness. Amaize can maintain that crispness, even when boiled.”

Grown by Dixon farmer Alan Simonis, the locally produced Amaize corn is offered exclusively at Raley’s, Bel Air and Nob Hill supermarkets. Arriving this week, Amaize corn season only lasts seven to eight weeks. It’s priced this week at five ears for $2.

Amaize first started trickling onto the market in 2011. The past two summers, this special corn showed up briefly in Sacramento stores before quickly selling out. It’s now in 2,200 stores nationwide with local growers in each region.

That mouthfeel is what sets Amaize apart, Hodbey said.

“To me, what makes it unique is ... there’s something within the kernel that gives you that sweet crunchiness,” Hodbey said. “It’s like the difference between a grape and an apple. Both have plenty of sugar, but regular sweet corn is more like a grape; it’s a sack full of sugar water. Amaize is more like an apple; it’s got a bite.”

Hodbey likes his corn barely boiled.

“I’ve taken bites out of thousands and thousands of ears,” he said. “The way I like it best is to get a big pot of water boiling ferociously. I husk the corn and plunge in the ears. I turn the corn three or four times in the boiling water, maybe 30 seconds. That’s how I prefer it.”

If the corn has been chilled, remove it from the refrigerator and let it warm up to room temperature before boiling, Hodbey recommended.

Most people prefer to cook sweet corn a little longer, noted Bob Trent, who manages Amaize sales and distribution. But keep its boiling time down to only 2 to 3 minutes; 4 minutes max.

“You don’t want to overcook it,” Trent said. “Get it just hot enough to melt butter.”

Added Hodbey, “I don’t see why people need to put butter on this corn. It’s good just as it is.”