Why Does Corn Smell Like Vinegar?
There is nothing as delicious as grilling some corn on the cob when you have your friends and family over for a BBQ.
I was preparing the food for our Sunday afternoon grill, and as I took the corn out of the fridge, I suddenly detected a strange smell—vinegar.
Why would corn smell like vinegar?
Was this normal, and could we still eat the corn? I suspected the corn had spoiled, but when I glanced at it, the corn seemed normal and healthy.
Confused, I phoned my great aunt Edna, who had traveled the world as a chef and knew more about food than I would ever learn.
My aunt had some interesting advice and information as to why a corn cob would smell like vinegar.
Why Does Corn Smell Like Vinegar?
Corn smells like vinegar either because of the preservatives, because it has started fermenting or because it is rotting. The smell could be the preservatives the corn has been treated with to stop it from spoiling. The corn could also have started fermenting if it was exposed to heat, which would create a vinegar smell. You may also mistake the smell of vinegar for the moldy smell of rotting corn, since we don’t all have the same sense of smell.
3 Reasons Corn Smells Like Vinegar
My aunt Edna was an absolute treasure of wisdom when it came to reasons why corn could smell like vinegar.
She indicated these as the main reasons why my corn might smell like vinegar:
1. Preservatives on the Corn
Corn is grown as a commercial crop, and to extend its shelf-life, it may be treated with chemicals to slow rot and drive away insects that could cause rot or damage.
These chemicals often have a sour smell, which may cause you to think it’s vinegar.
If you suspect the reason your corn smells like vinegar is due to preservatives, you can simply rinse the corn and then place it in a large pot and boil for 10-15 minutes.
The vinegar smell should be gone, and your corn will be as delicious as if it was just harvested.
Should the smell persist, then your corn smells like vinegar for a different reason, and you can consider the other reasons on this list.
2. The Corn Is Fermenting
If you’ve never heard of fermented corn, you’ve never had brandy or beer or any number of other alcoholic beverages.
Corn is rich in starchy sugars, which ferment when there is heat, moisture, and a lack of oxygen.
Should your corn have been vacuum packed or packed in a cellophane packet that limited the airflow, you could well be dealing with corn that’s busy fermenting.
You may notice a clear fluid in the packet with the corn, and this is where the vinegar smell comes from.
As a whole, the corn will be slightly squishy, without seeming to be off or spoiled, but there will be a definite presence of moisture and a vinegar smell.
My concern was whether I could still eat this corn, but my aunt Edna advised that I rather use the vinegar-smelling corn to make cornbread or give it to my neighbor who has a small backyard distillery and makes his own bourbon.
When baking corn that has just started fermenting, the heat of baking in an oven will destroy any yeast or other bacteria that may be harmful to your gut.
However, if the corn has gone from fermenting to spoiling, there is little good you can do with it.
3. The Corn Has Spoiled
Sadly, I had a quick nibble on one corn kernel, and the foul taste was enough to make me quickly throw the corn cobs away.
Clearly, they had gone past the beginning stage of fermentation right into being rotten.
Rotten corn can cause food poisoning, and if you suspect your corn is rotten, then you should discard it and rather go buy some fresh corn.
The same bacteria that cause fermentation can also create rot. When I examined the inside of the corn husks and between the kernels, I saw the telltale blackish green spots of mold.
How to Choose Fresh Corn
Now, I really didn’t want to make the same mistake again, so I asked aunt Edna to guide me on how to choose fresh corn so I could have the right stuff for the BBQ.
This is what you need to look at:
The Smell of the Corn
Always have a sniff at the corn, even if it’s in a packet. You should smell a sweet “green” smell that tells you the corn is fresh.
The Feel of the Corn
When you take the corn between your thumb and index finger, it should have a solid feel and not be squishy at all.
The kernels should be firm with a very slight give if you apply pressure with your nail.
The Look of the Corn
Corn that’s fresh should be a pale yellow to deep yellow color.
If you see any gray spots or black dots, this indicates the presence of mold colonies, and the corn is off. There should be no part of the corn cob that’s damaged.
Pay special attention to the tip and the stem end of the corn cob. If the tip is at all bent or squashed, don’t buy that corn.
Also, be on the lookout for discolored kernels and signs of insect damage as those types of corn cobs are best avoided.
The Coloration of the Husk and Silk
Good quality corn is sold with the husk and silk intact as these help preserve the flavor and texture of the corn kernels.
The husk leaves should be a pale green to deep green, and there should be no spots on them.
The silk should be a golden color, and while it should be firm and flexible, the strands shouldn’t be slimy.
The Moisture Around the Corn
Avoid buying corn that is in packets with a layer of moisture or a line of liquid in the packet.
These types of corn will not be fresh.
The fluid indicates that fermentation or decomposition has already begun as the fluid is produced by bacteria and mold.
Frequently Asked Questions About Why Corn Smells Like Vinegar
Why does my corn taste like vinegar?
Corn that is spoiled can have vinegar or rancid smell and taste. Corn that is old and better suited to drying and making flour has a sour taste.
Is corn supposed to smell sour?
Corn that smells rancid has spoiled and the smell is produced by bacteria and mold. This corn is no longer edible.
Conclusion About Why Corn Smells Like Vinegar
I was so grateful for my aunt Edna’s information.
If I hadn’t known, I might have given my whole family food poisoning with the sour corn.
While I had to dash to the local fresh market to buy some fresh corn cobs, I didn’t regret it.
My neighbor was happy about the old corn and promised me a bottle of something special in a few weeks.