The One Thing Farmers' Market Vendors Are Begging Customers to Stop Doing When They're Shopping for Corn

There's nothing better than summertime corn but the etiquette that goes along with it can sometimes be confusing. Is it ok to peel back the husk and peek at the kernels? Should you shuck your corn standing right there in the produce section? We turned to the pros to find out the answer, plus we got some bonus info to help you pick the best ears and shuck them efficiently.

Related: The Grandpa-Approved Trick to Perfectly Cooked, Silk-Free Corn

When Is the Best Season for Corn?

Let's start at the start, when really is the best time to buy corn? Dana Peters, the Perishable Merchandising Produce Field Inspector for Whole Foods Market, says that it depends on the month, but typically Memorial Day through Labor Day is the best season for corn.

"Premium corn ships from various regions of the country throughout the summer," she says. "Out East, it begins in South Florida and gradually moves up the coast to Northern growing areas. I especially like Georgia-grown corn for July 4th and New York-grown corn for Labor Day."

Rosemary Gill, director of education at Christopher Kimball's Milk Street, says that summertime isn't the only time of year to enjoy fresh corn and offers this cool tip: "You can keep corn season going by cutting the kernels off the cob, blanching them in boiling water for 30 seconds and then freezing them for use all winter long."

Related: The Secret Ingredient to Tender, Juicy, Perfectly Cooked Corn

Should You be Shucking Corn at the Store or Farmers' Market?

This one is a huge thumbs down, even if you see a barrel encouraging shucking at the store. And we'll tell you why: Jenna Untiedt, the marketing manager at Untiedt's Vegetable Farm in Waverly, MN says that when you open an ear of corn, it starts to dry out immediately. "Anytime there is oxygen hitting the kernels, it's going to start to dry out and you lose some of the freshness," she says. The other big reason? It's a sanitary issue.

"Some people have the tendency to poke the ear of corn with their fingernail for some reason to see if a milky substance comes out," she says. "They think that's going to mean a good ear of sweet corn but that really has nothing to do with it."

Janet Gamble, an organic veggie farmer at Turtle Creek Gardens in Delavan, WI and a founding board member for the Midwest Organic Sustainable Education Services (MOSES), says that not only is shucking at the store or farm stand bad for your corn, but it's also poor etiquette and creates waste.

"If people start peeling corn back and not buying it, other people think it's not good and will not buy it unless it's the only corn left to buy," she says, noting that people are usually checking to see if it has worms or checking to see what kind of corn it is (even if there's a sign indicating the variety). She says people tend to follow the crowd on this one and encourages people not to be "copycat corn huskers."

There's nothing worse than getting home and finding worms in your corn, though. So how do you circumvent this? Gamble says if you're buying conventional corn, you have even less of a reason to inspect it in the market since it's been sprayed with pesticides or is GMO corn, which is grown specifically to ward off pests.

Related: How to Make a Box of Jiffy Cornbread Mix Taste 10x Better



How Can You Pick the Best Corn at the Store Without Shucking?

With organic corn (or if you just feel compelled to check), here's how to see if an ear of corn is good while being courteous to your farmer and fellow shoppers.

According to Gamble, you can tell whether corn has worms by looking at the silks sticking out of the husks. If they are very short towards the tip of the cob, there is a good chance worms are in there.

"I would highly suggest that customers ask the farmer about their corn—if it's organic or conventional, GMO, sprayed for corn worms, etc.—and then examine silk from the outside or gently open the husk right at the tip to see if there is any worm activity which may look sawdusty." (Gamble says this is actually worm poop left behind after a hearty meal of corn on the cob.)

Gill says it's all about weight: "Pick up a few similar-sized ears and compare their heft. You want to choose the ones that feel heaviest," she says.

Peters echos this and also says that the ear of corn or “barrel size” should be medium to large.

"Avoid small ears that do not feel well-developed or full. Silks at the tips of the ears should be clean and brightly colored, avoid black or wet silks. Look for worms or insects in the top of the ear, pulling down the husk several inches. Usually, worms will be present in the tips first and are easy to spot."

Related: 100 Canned, Frozen and Farm-Fresh Corn Recipes That Are the Cream of the Crop

What's the Best Way To Shuck Corn Without Making a Mess?

Gill says she always has two bags open and ready when she shucks corn; one for the shucked corn and one for the husks. "I shuck the corn over the bag for the husks, so any silks or pieces of husk fall right into that trash bag. The process is always a little bit messy, but if you have the bags ready and shuck over one, it's not so bad," she says.

Peters says snapping the bottoms off the stalk usually takes care of much of the husk and silk, but there's really no way to avoid a bit of a mess.

Related: How Long You Should Really Boil Corn on the Cob for Perfectly Sweet Ears

What Are the Different Varieties of Corn?

There are numerous varieties of corn, but they fall into three basic types: Yellow, Bi-Color and White. Among the most popular corn varieties are Silver Queen, known for its large ears, sweet taste, and super white kernels; Jubilee, a popular yellow corn that is known for its tender yellow kernels; and Butter and Sugar, known for its mix of white and yellow kernels. Gill says some varieties are for eating fresh, some are for drying to make corn meal or masa and others are for feeding animals.

"Usually, you will only find sweet yellow, white, or a mix of yellow and white in the stores and at the farmer's markets," she says. "The size of the kernels doesn't matter; freshness does. The fresher the corn, the sweeter it will be."

Up next: The Easiest Way to Cut Corn Off the Cob Without Kernels Flying Everywhere