When Blue Corn Turns Purple

Blue corn tortilla chips, blue corn pasta, blue corn waffles…

By Sandy Szwarc

Published on May 19, 2008

Blue corn has become the definitive cliche of "contemporary Southwestern" cooking. But it is no post-Mark Miller gimmick. It is an ancient and important constituent of the native New Mexican diet—and there are a few things about it that might surprise you. For instance:

1. Blue corn can be traced back at least 1,100 years, to the time of the Anasazi.

2. Blue corn plants have only 20 to 30 percent of the yield of yellow corn plants.

3. Blue corn is about 21 percent higher in protein than white and yellow corn, and the protein is more complete, due to its amino acid profile.

4. Blue corn is higher in zinc and iron than yellow, and perhaps lower in fat.

5. Blue corn turns pink when cooked unless treated with an alkaline.

6. The Pueblo Indians solve the alkaline problem by grinding the
ashes of juniper branches or the chamisa shrub with blue corn.

7. This process increases the calcium content of the corn substantially.

8. Blue corn tortillas tend to crack or break when they're rolled—which is why blue corn enchiladas are usually layered instead.

9. Cooking blue corn batter in a cast-iron pan will turn the batter purple.

10. The longer blue corn batter sits, the bluer it becomes.

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