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Monday, June 22, 2015

So it's summertime and that means corn-on-the-cob, right?

We love corn-on-the-cob, but right now, the best price I'm seeing is 3 ears for $1.

How do you compare the "value" of corn off the cob vs. corn-on-the-cob?

Right off the bat, I have to admit, we love fresh corn so much that we visit a u-pick farm at least once per summer, when the corn is ripe and ready for us to pick. And before local corn is ready, we also buy produce-stand, corn-on-the-cob, a couple of times per summer.

But for many recipes and meals, on-the-cob isn't necessary. Like corn relish, corn salsa, and corn pudding. All three of those dishes do fine with frozen and even canned corn.

Last week, I had my choice with corn. I could buy fresh ears at Target in the produce section, for 3/$1. Or, at Cash & Carry, I could buy 5-lb bags of frozen corn for $3.49.

With the corn-on-the-cob, my family would need a minimum of 3 ears, for $1. (Breaking each ear in half, that would give us 6 small servings of corn.) With the frozen corn, 16 ounces is about what I would serve our family, for a cost of 70 cents. But these aren't really equivalent servings, are they?

A medium-sized ear of fresh corn has about 3/4 cup of kernels. 3/4 cup of kernels weighs about .27 lb. To get the same amount of corn cut off of the cob, to equal 16 ounces of frozen corn, I would need to buy 3.70 ears of fresh corn, at a cost of $1.22. So, comparing the two, fresh corn-on-the-cob vs. frozen corn, the same amount of fresh corn costs $1.22, as frozen at 70 cents.

For our family, with Cash & Carry's price on frozen corn being my "buy" price for frozen cut corn, corn-on-the-cob needs to come down to 5 ears for $1, which yields about 74 cents per pound of cut kernels.

Your prices may vary. But for you to compare, remember this:

  • 1 average ear of fresh corn yields about 3/4 cup of kernels
  • those 3/4 cup of kernels from 1 ear of corn weigh about .27 pound (just over a quarter-lb)
  • it takes about 3.7 ears of fresh corn to equal 1 pound (16-oz) of kernels
  • if you're comparing the costs between canned and fresh, a typical can of corn kernels weighs about 15 ounces, and contains about 1  1/2 cups of drained corn, or .54 pound. It takes about 1.85 of the 15-oz cans of corn to get 1  pound of kernels. So, if you can get canned corn at 39 cents per can, that would be about 72 cents per 1-pound of drained kernels, or what works out to be roughly my "good" price on frozen corn.

What all of this means for my family is that in summer, I DO buy frozen corn, for using in recipes. But we also "splurge" on roasting ears a few times per summer, for the experience of eating corn-on-the-cob. However, we're aware that when fresh corn prices are 3/$1, or even 4/$1, it's not the best buy, and it is the experience of eating corn-on-the-cob that we're paying for.

FYI, unless you have a super-cheap source of fresh corn, it's almost never the best deal to cut corn off the cob to freeze for winter. Commercially-frozen corn will, in most cases, be cheaper than doing it yourself.


  1. Another great analysis, Lili. I grew up spoiled by baker's dozen deals on corn at roadside stands in New England. Our whole family could feast on the super-cheap, with maybe just a hamburger patty to round out the meal. So, 3/$1 doesn't impress me all that much, either!

    The discussion reminded me, also, that a while back I saved a link for corn cob jelly. I've not had it, but (like fireweed jelly up in Alaska) it sounded like an interesting way to make something edible out of a thing that you already have and don't use.

    We don't have local corn here, but if we grew our own, I'd certainly consider trying it. :) Have a good week! Sara

    1. HI Sara,
      I'm glad that 3/$1 for corn-on-the-cob doesn't sound impressive to you. I sometimes wonder if I'm just being cheap. But it doesn't sound like a good deal to me either. In our area, the best I ever find is 5/$1, and that is usually local u-pick corn in late summer. Can't wait for August!

      I've never tried making corn cob jelly. It sounds interesting!

  2. Interesting to see those calculations. :) I haven't done it on corn, yet. We rarely eat it as a "vegetable" but love corn on the cob a few times a year as well. I do keep some frozen onhand for use in sweet yellow corn cake. We don't have a great source but will occasionally pick some up at the Farmer's Market. We also usually try to grow a small patch in our garden. This year, we used a brand new spot and it is doing okay, but not great (soil not amended or anything).

    1. Hi Cat,
      In our house, we eat corn as a grain. I grew up with it as a vegetable dish, but in my own home, I consider it one of the starchy foods.

      This would have been the summer to try corn in our garden, but too late now. We'e having fantastic weather this year. And I suspect that corn would have done well. Maybe your new spot for corn can be improved for future growing. I hope you do get some good corn!

      I don't know what Sweet Yellow Corn Cake is. Is it like a corn bread?

    2. Same here. Sweet yellow corn cake is like a wetter version of a corn bread, but with kernels of corn left in it, some chopped and some whole. So so good. I'd send you a link but am thinking we aren't supposed to link in the comments. If you search you will turn up recipes, though. Our favorite Mexican restaurant back in Ohio served it as a side, but we've now been in Oklahoma over 18 years and they don't serve it around here.

    3. I'll look that up. Thanks, Cat!

  3. I also LOVE corn on the cob. Two years ago we lived in the country where there was a wonderful roadside stand that sold the best corn at fairly decent prices--bakers dozen. We filled up on as much corn as we could and I froze so much of it. Now we live in the outskirts of a city and there aren't too many roadside stands here. But our local stores are selling 6/$2 which is not much of a deal but I think it is very early in the season for fresh corn. We have to wait just bit yet. I did not freeze any corn for the last two summers since there was no good tasting corn from farmers in the city. The beauty is that we could easily drive the 40 minutes to the country and get corn though I'm not sure the drive is worth it unless I really stocked up and I wouldn't know if on the day I went if they would have a cart full or just a few straggly ears. Corn probably isn't the healthiest "vegetable" so I guess not freezing corn is OK.


    1. Hi Alice,
      Do you have any u-pick farms in the area that's 40 minutes away? I do love the u-pick, as we know we can get our corn super fresh, and be very picky about which ears we buy. Plus it's a fun outing for whoever wants to come with me. In our area, the u-pick places will say on their website what is ready for picking, so we're not guessing if it's the right time yet, or not.

  4. I think I am spoiled by our local corn on the cob. My grandpa grew absolutely meltingly-good corn and I confess, I am very picky about the corn that I eat. When we were first married, my F-I-L grew corn in the garden--in no way did his compare with the corn I grew up with (plus, they overcooked it ... ) and I admit that I am relieved my F-I-L no longer grows it so I don't have to pretend to like it. Corn, for me, is one of those foods that I prefer to eat in-season and while I look for good deals, I'm willing to splurge a few times a year for, as you say, they experience of it. It sold in the grocery stores at Memorial Day for $1/6 ears but we won't see those prices again till late summer when the corn is in season here (don't know where they shipped it from but it was good).

    1. Hi Kris,
      you live in the part of the country that seems to be famous for good corn. I imagine you are spoiled by the freshness and sweetness of the corn there.

      My favorite way to eat corn-on-the-cob -- later in the afternoon that same day that we pick it ourselves. That's the best corn I've ever had.

  5. Whenever we eat fresh corn on the cob, my husband will always remark how his grandmother ate the cob so clean, leaving not a shred of kernel behind. So when you mentioned "experience", I had visions of cleanly eaten cobs and the fun we have trying to eat it so clean.

    The best corn on the cob we had was from a local farm that sold the cobs by the bucketful. I didn't do the math then, but my husband and son neatly arranged the cobs in the bucket so it stacked well above the bucket height. We thought we got a good deal, and had a lot of fun with the cobs!!

    YHF .

    1. Hi YHF,
      when my kids were small, I picked up on the fact that they never really cleaned the ears of corn as well as I would like. So, I began breaking all the ears n half, so if they really wanted to eat their corn, they had to clean those cobs really well, like how you described your husband's grandmother.

      Good job on packing/stacking those buckets of corn so well!!

  6. I love corn on the cob and remember it well when growing up. Corn is one of those vegetables that the sugars in it start turning to starch almost immediately, so it had to go from the stalk to the freezer as soon as possible. As with most things, my father grew a lot of it so I spent many all-nighters processing corn. And the corn we froze tasted like fresh all through the winter. Yum!

    These days they have bred the corn to be sweeter, so it is not quite as critical to eat or process immediately after picking to maintain the sweet taste. I have tried growing it a few times, but without much success. Luckily, we have a stand close by that goes to the fields every morning to pick it so we can get it fairly fresh. Soon they will be trucking it in from a few hours away, but locally it won't be ripe for another month or two. Can't wait.

    1. Hi live and learn,
      Although that sounded like a LOT of work that you and your family went to for super fresh corn, I'm sure it was very delicious!


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