Sweet corn meet White corn, the star of Mexican cuisine

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By Christina Fernández-Morrow, Hola Iowa

Corn was first domesticated by native peoples in southern Mexico roughly 10,000 years ago. Over time, Natives brought seeds north as they settled in the Midwest, where it has become the leading crop in Iowa. That’s what inspired Xochil Fonseca, a native of Texcoco, Mexico and her husband David Bonnett, native of Canberra, Australia to move their corn business, Eloteshop to Iowa. They specialize in maíz blanco, the white variety of corn most commonly used in Mexico. While it has the same look as the sweet corn Iowans are used to, it is not sweet and is much lighter in color. “I tell people that it doesn’t taste the same as the sweet corn we’re used to here. It could have less flavor on its own. It’s best with the flavors you add like salt, lime, sauces, and broths. I personally, like it less sweet in certain dishes,” says Fonseca who missed the corn of her childhood when she moved to the United States. “White corn is the corn we used the most for everything from making tortillas to soups. We don’t use sweet corn, which changes the flavor. White corn was common for our everyday dishes and more traditional ones for holidays and even sold at street festivals. It’s important to produce it here because it makes people so happy. When they find us and buy our corn, they tell me how excited they are to have a taste of Mexico. They share stories about their childhood eating various dishes made with white corn. It’s even popular with people from other Latin American countries like Honduras and El Salvador; it’s part of their traditions. Some clients haven’t been able to return to their home countries in 30 years, so they haven’t had white corn in all that time.”

Xochil Fonseca, a native of Texcoco, Mexico and her husband David Bonnett, native of Canberra, Australia owners of Eloteshop in Iowa.

While they have a website, most customers find Eloteshop on Facebook where the couple posts updates on their harvest, where they’ll be selling, and if they have huitlacoche available, a type of fungus that grows inside the husk when there’s high humidity. It is considered a delicacy in haute Mexican cuisine, but it is not common in this region. “I have to look for it and separate it. I care for it differently to sell the huitlacoche. The sun can ruin the crop. I have specific clients who buy it and it’s growing.”

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huitlacoche, a type of fungus that grows inside the husk when there’s high humidity. It is considered a delicacy in haute Mexican cuisine.

Fonseca and Bonnett met in Texcoco, Mexico, Fonseca’s hometown when they worked at the Centro Internacional de Mejoramiento de Maíz y Trigo (International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center) where Bonnett was a wheat development scientist and Fonseca was a photographer in the communications department. When they moved to the United States for Bonnett’s career, they started growing corn in Fargo, ND before renting ten acres of land in Roland, Iowa because of its reputation for corn and a longer growing season. At that time, most of their customers were in Minnesota. Now that they produce a larger harvest, they sell in the Twin Cities, Central Iowa, and the Chicagoland area. Every other Saturday they’re at the Des Moines Downtown Farmers’ Market, and every other Wednesday at Zamora Fresh in Marshalltown. They announce their location on Facebook, so customers know where to find them. “Some customers drive up to 2.5 hours to buy our corn. They look for us,” says Fonseca.

For the maíz blanco novice, they recommend boiling or roasting the corn and trying it with lime, salt, and a bit of Tajin to get the real flavor and texture before using it to make other dishes. Its density is particularly good for making tamales and other masa-based dishes. “Corn varieties are different, like rice is different. You can make some of the same dishes, but the flavor will be different when the corn is sweeter,” says Bonnett who encourages people to try it.

As white corn grows in popularity throughout the Midwest, they would like to rent more land to expand their business. Fonseca and Bonnett’s long-term goal is to have their corn in more stores and restaurants with distributors that carry it so more people can become familiar with maíz blanco

You can find Eloteshop on Facebook here and check out their website at eloteshop.com/ to learn more.

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They will be in these locations in the near future:

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SATURDAY, September 2

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DES MOINES IOWA

7:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.

Des Moines Downtown Farmers Market

300 Court Ave, Des Moines, IA 50309

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