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Corn Hybrids Selected For Flavor
Keith Williams is developing new corn hybrids with specific flavor notes and other attributes for specific uses. The corn breeder works with chefs, brewers and distillers to find the best hybrid for each. Next year, his company Creative Botanics will be releasing its first new (yet-to-be-named) corn hybrid for specific uses.
    “Our first hybrid scores very high for flavor and aromatics with nutty overtones and works well in fermentation processes such as brewing, spirits and sourdough baking,” says Williams.
    Unfortunately, taste alone doesn’t guarantee a market. While it makes a masa (fine corn meal used in tortilla making) with good flavor, the masa is brownish. “Most folks like yellow or white tortillas,” says Williams.
    Different attributes of a particular hybrid can make it preferred for a particular use, notes Williams. “Chefs from different traditions, work with corn in different ways,” he explains. “As we finish work on 20 advanced hybrids, there may be one that is very good for tortillas, but not for polenta or great for cornbread, but not for beer.”
    It was the taste of cornbread that diverted Williams from conventional corn breeding. While working on developing a 98-day hybrid for southern Minnesota, he was looking at various older corn lines for disease resistance.
    “I took one home and ground it for cornbread,” he recalls. “It tasted completely different from what I knew cornbread to be.”
    He began working with chefs, brewers and distillers to evaluate old corn lines for flavor and other characteristics. At the same time, he set a threshold for acceptable agronomics, including disease resistance, standability and yield.
    “You can definitely pull different flavors out of different color and genetic backgrounds,” says Williams. “Two flint corns can be closely related as far as pedigree, but end users will give a thumbs up for one and not the other.”
    Williams has found that flavor is just one factor. How the corn will be used, whether baking or cooking, and in the case of sourdough, even how long it ferments, can change the flavor.
    “In brewing and distilling, it can depend on how they brew, the mash process, and the equipment they use,” says Williams. “I used to think selecting for yield was complicated, but yield is simple compared to these different factors.”
    Williams started his work in 2016 in the Midwest and the Northeast. He has received support in the effort from Row 7 Seed, a Hudson Valley seed company. Row 7 Seed works closely with chefs to find, grow and market unique varieties.
    This past year Williams produced enough seed to produce 300 acres of the new hybrid in 2023. He is currently selecting potential growers to grow it out.
    “We know flavor is a matter of where it is grown,” says Williams. “This hybrid has been tested in the Pacific Northwest, the Midsouth and the Midwest. It has been trialed in Kentucky bourbon country, but it doesn’t have the same qualities or flavors as the same hybrid grown in the Midwest or Northeast.”
    He is looking for growers with experience in specialty corn lines or who are willing to adapt their processes. They will need to segregate the new hybrid from other hybrids by distance or planting date to prevent cross-pollination.
     “The key will be that they know how to produce a good corn crop,” says Williams. “We are also working to identify interested end users. In some cases, we will help set up a direct pipeline.”
    He promises the growers something they won’t find with most older open-pollinated corn varieties like Bloody Butcher or Jimmy Red.
    “Our hybrid has color, flavor and zing, plus it will emerge and grow uniformly and stand until it is combined,” says Williams. “We are expecting a target yield of 100 to 150 bushels per acre in an organic system, depending on population density.”
    Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Keith Williams, 5500 Nicollet Ave. #19161, Minneapolis, Minn. 55419 (ph 248-830-5234; krwilliams25@wisc.edu; www.creativebotanics.com).

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2023 - Volume #47, Issue #1