Corn Husks have been an integral part of culinary traditions around the world for centuries. These papery layers surround an ear of corn and can be used for steaming, wrapping, baking, crafting, and more once removed. Understanding the unique properties and preparation methods for corn husks can open up new possibilities for sustainable living. From nutritious tamales steamed in corn husks to stunning wreaths handcrafted from dried husks, this versatile agricultural byproduct has much to offer. Read on to unlock the full potential of corn husks with this ultimate guide to their myriad uses, benefits, and easy preparation fixes.
Understanding Corn Husks
What Are Corn Husks?
Corn husks are the outermost leafy parts of a corn plant’s ear. They form protective layers around the corn kernels we eat. The husks are made of cellulose fibers that feel dry and papery to the touch. When fresh, the husks are flexible and pliable, making them perfect for wrapping foods for steaming or baking. Once dried completely, corn husks become stiff and can be used for crafting various household items or starting fires. Their natural moisture-wicking properties are what make corn husks so useful for steaming and cooking.
What to Look for When Choosing Corn
When buying corn specifically for the husks, there are a few things to look for. Select ears with green, plump-looking husks that are free of spots or mold. The husks should completely cover the ear of corn and feel firmly attached. Tug gently on the top leaves to test that they do not detach too easily. Very loose husks may indicate old or dried-out corn. The best corn for husking will be freshly picked during peak harvest season. Farmers markets can be great places to find locally grown corn sold with husks still intact.
Preparing Corn Husks
2 Ways to Husk Corn
Before corn husks can be used, they first need to be removed or “shucked” from the ear of corn. There are a couple of quick and easy methods for doing this effectively:
The traditional way to husk corn is by hand. Start by removing any excess silk then simply peel away the husks one at a time until all are removed. Using a downward motion can help break the slightly sticky bond between the husks and the kernels.
A quicker way to make corn husking easier is by microwaving the intact ears for 2-3 minutes first. The short burst of heat helps loosen and steam the husks away from the corn. After microwaving, carefully remove the warm husks by hand.
Fresh Husks vs. Dried Husks
Corn husks can be used either fresh immediately after shucking, or they can be dried for later use. Fresh green husks are ideal for steaming tamales, baking fish, or making broth since they still contain moisture. To dry husks for crafts or tinder, remove any remaining corn silk, then lay the shucked husks flat in a single layer to air dry completely. The drying process can take 1-2 weeks depending on humidity.
Culinary Uses of Corn Husks
Corn husks have many excellent culinary applications thanks to their moisture-wicking capabilities and subtle sweet flavor. Here are some of the most popular ways to use them in regional recipes:
Making Tamales with Corn Husks
Tamales steamed inside corn husk wrappers may be the most well-known use for fresh husks. The key is to leave the thin membrane on the innermost layer of the husk intact when shucking the corn. This will prevent masa dough leakage while steaming. Soak husks briefly in hot water before use to increase pliability for wrapping.
Steaming Fresh Fish in Corn Husks
Baking or steaming delicate fish inside corn husks imparts sweetness while keeping the contents incredibly moist. Bass, trout, tilapia, and other fish work very well. Simply lay seasoned fillets on the husk, wrap tightly, and steam for 15-20 minutes depending on thickness.
Using Corn Husks in Dumpling Preparation
In some Eastern European dumpling recipes, dried corn husks may be used to line steamer baskets before cooking. As the dumplings steam, the husks prevent sticking to the bamboo. They also absorb excess moisture.
Alternative to Banana Leaves for Cooking
Since fresh corn husks share properties with other leaf wrappers like banana leaves, they make a convenient substitute in recipes calling for those. Expect a subtle corn sweetness to permeate dishes cooked en papillote style in corn husks.
Corn Husks as Tinder for Starting Fires
Dried-out corn husks catch flames easily, making excellent natural firestarters. When camping or cooking outdoors, use leftover husks for starting a cooking fire or campfire instead of chemical-laden starters. Simply ignite the wadded-up husk fibers with a spark to generate quick flames.
Crafts and Decorative Uses
Beyond cooking, corn husks also provide the perfect crafting material for various decorative projects. Their natural tan color and fibrous texture lend rustic warmth to handmade items. Some fun ideas include:
Creating Beautiful Crafts with Dried Corn Husks
Corn Husk Wreath for Front Doors
Transform leftover husks into a stunning wreath for fall or winter by wiring the husks into a circular frame. Add mini gourds or red ribbon for extra ornamentation if desired before hanging.
Rustic Corn Husk Dolls
Make cute traditional dolls by using dried corn husks for the body and small pieces for clothing or hair. Use hot glue and floral stems to assemble everything and draw faces with markers.
Decorative Christmas Trees and Angels
For crafty holiday decor, shape wired husks into miniature Christmas trees and angels using hot glue to hold everything together. Streamers of husks also make lovely garlands.
Handmade Corn Husk Flowers
Crafty DIYers can mimic the look of hydrangeas, chrysanthemums, dahlias, or sunflowers by using dried husks. Cut husks into leaf shapes, gather them into bunches, and secure them with floral wire to create stunning realistic blossoms.
Innovative Home Decor Ideas
Dried corn husks can be incorporated into existing decor in many ways. Use them to fill empty vases, or layer them behind photos or artwork in frames for added depth. For rustic farmhouse style, glue them onto candleholders or line baskets with husks before filling them. The design options are unlimited!
Gardening and Environmental Benefits
Aside from being a ubiquitous cooking staple, corn husks also offer solutions for eco-friendly gardening and sustainable living due to their biodegradable nature.
Using Corn Husks as Mulch
Shredded dry corn husks make an excellent overwintering mulch for perennial beds and inactive garden areas. Their insulation helps moderate soil temperatures and prevent frost heaving of shallow plant roots. As the husks decompose, they contribute organic matter to enrich the soil. In spring, simply turn them into the soil.
Corn Cob Broth: A Zero-Waste Recipe
Don’t discard corn cobs after cutting the kernels off! Put to use by simmering them in water with vegetable scraps to make a mineral-rich broth, then strain. Add back corn kernels for corn soup, or use the savory veg broth alone for cooking grains like rice.
As this guide has shown, corn husks are truly one of nature’s most versatile agricultural byproducts. They have moved from traditional crude uses to innovative eco-friendly solutions for modern households. Whether for steaming tamales or crafting wreaths, corn husks prove themselves an indispensable item. Their natural sustainability makes them even more appealing. Hopefully, the unique benefits, simple preparation methods, and endless creative applications covered here inspire even greater use of corn husks. With little effort, this modest garden staple can enhance cooking, decorating, and organic living in so many unexpected ways.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Can I use frozen corn husks?
It’s best to use fresh or fully-dried corn husks. Frozen uncooked husks will be soggy when thawed.
Q: What are some substitutes for corn husks?
Alternatives like parchment paper, banana leaves, or foil can be substituted when steaming foods or making crafts.
Q: How long do fresh corn husks last?
Refrigerated in an airtight container, freshly shucked husks typically last 3-5 days before drying out.
Q: What food is cooked in husk?
Tamales are the most common food cooked inside corn husks, but many vegetables, poultry, and fish dishes can be cooked en papillote in husks too.
Q: Can you eat grilled corn husks?
Yes! Grilled corn in the husk lends a delicious charred flavor. Simply peel away the blackened husks after cooking.
Q: Can I microwave corn in the husk?
Yes, you can microwave corn in the husk! This quick steaming method tenderizes the kernels and imparts extra corny sweetness to the ears.