Corn silk in English, corn’s beard in Japanese–this one ingredient can make a powerful health tea.
When Did Corn Come to Japan?
Corn has been cultivated for food and used as medicine for centuries. It was first introduced to Japan in 1579 with the arrival of the Portuguese to Nagasaki and gained importance as a crop in the Edo Period. From the Meiji period, corn entered the market and today is available in many forms: grilled and brushed with sweetened soy sauce at summer festivals, as a cold soup sold in cans from jihanki (vending machines, and of course, at movie theaters by the buttery bucketful at extortionate prices. Besides the kernels, you can use the leaves, silk, and inner cob for cooking, but it’s the silk (hige ひげ) we are focusing on in today’s post.
Health Benefits of Corn Silk
Corn silk is naturally caffeine-free and contains potassium, vitamin K, vitamin C, various minerals, fiber, and other active ingredients. It is said to be effective in treating diabetes and high cholesterol, to relieve fatigue, and to promote kidney, prostate, urinary, heart, and digestive health. Thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties, it may also be helpful for people with arthritis.
Keep in mind that, while astoundingly nutritious, corn silk should be consumed in moderation. Corn silk is a diuretic, and as such may lower the efficacy of certain medications. In addition, avoid if you have low blood pressure, are pregnant or are breast-feeding.
How to Make Corn Silk Tea
Most people, when cooking corn, throw away the corn silk without a second thought. “Mottainai!” Instead of throwing it away, let’s use it to make tea.
The first step to making corn silk into tea is to sun dry it. To do this, prepare a clean surface for your corn cobs and peel off the leaves and silk.
If you want, you can save the leaves to make shūmai dumplings, but it’s the silk we want for our tea. Spread out the corn silk on a zaru (bamboo sieve) in a thin, even layer. If you are setting it outside, cover with a mesh to keep off bugs and dust.
Set in direct sunlight for a day. You may want to use a weight to keep your corn silk from flying away.
When your corn silk looks and feels dry, bring it inside and spread it as thinly and evenly as possible on a frying pan. Turn the heat on low and toast until evenly browned, turning over as necessary to keep from burning. When dark brown and fragrant, remove from heat.
Corn Silk Tea Recipe (とうもろこしのヒゲ茶)
Add 2 teaspoons or a small clump of corn silk roughly the equivalent of 2 teaspoons to a teapot, add 200ml boiling water, and steep for 15 minutes or until caramel brown. Pour into your favorite cup and enjoy hot or iced. Corn silk tea has a mild flavor with a sweet undertone of molasses. Pair with a bitter dessert like dark chocolate or matcha pudding (vegan recipe on Chef JA Cooks, a Japanese food blog) for a good balance of flavors.