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Purple Corn Offers Benefits Inside and Out

Posted by Korryn Shaw, Communications Staff Intern, National Institute of Food and Agriculture in Research and Science
Aug 01, 2019
Researchers holding different corn varieties
Researchers at the University of Illinois found that elements of purple corn might help fight several diseases. From left, food science professor Elvira Gonzalez de Mejia, postdoctoral researcher Diego Luna-Vital and crop sciences professor John Juvik. Photo by L. Brian Stauffer, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Purple corn is more than tasty and eye-catching. Scientists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a game-changing element of purple corn – it may help reduce the risk of major health diseases.

While developing new types of purple corn, the researchers found some with elevated levels of a naturally occurring chemical that may fight obesity, inflammation, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and certain types of cancer. They also found that the outer layer of kernels might be used as natural food coloring.

USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture is supporting this research with funds through the Hatch Act. Hatch funds support agricultural research to solve problems that concern more than one state.

The research team, led by food science professor Elvira Gonzalez de Mejia and crop sciences professor John Juvik, created 20 varieties of the Apache Red maize strain, each with a different amount and type of anthocyanins, the element that gives the maize its distinct color. Studies have shown that eating anthocyanin-rich foods may reduce the risk of disease.

In one finding, the scientists tested purple corn’s phenolic compounds against insulin resistance. They induced insulin resistance in the mouse fat cells, treated the cells with the anthocyanin compounds, and monitored the glucose uptake. They found that insulin resistance decreased by 29-64 percent. Although more studies are needed, the research suggests that phenolic compounds might improve the insulin profile of people who are obese.

Juvik also described an extra benefit of purple corn. He noted that the natural color of purple corn could potentially be used as a food color replacement for red dye No. 40 – one of the major dyes used in the United States. People could then easily gain some health benefits through a natural, anthocyanin-rich pigment dye that is added to foods and beverages.

NIFA invests in and advances agricultural research, education, and extension and seeks to make transformative discoveries that solve societal challenges.

Category/Topic: Research and Science

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Karen Brown
Aug 07, 2019

Enjoyed reading about the benefits of purple corn. Is it grown/sold anywhere in the Huntsville, Alabama area?

Ben Weaver
Aug 07, 2019

@Karen Brown - thank you for your comment. The purple corn described in the blog is currently in pre-commercial development and not available except in Dr. Juvik’s breeding program at the University of Illinois. There are other sources of purple corn that are commercially available, but we do not know about their capacity for health promotion.

saeed hoseeini
Aug 13, 2019

this is relly helpful

Sunshine Richardson (USDA Employee) Haliwa-Saponi Tribe
Aug 13, 2019

My grand parents and great grands taught us about the Indian corn and how it was different from other corn. They said there were many benefits and used it in various way. Thank you for sharing this article and Please keep up the Great work.

Rosa Angela Macedo
Aug 15, 2019

It is true, we have in Perú, our purple corn and it is use to prepare a very tasty drink called CHICHA MORADA, and believed or not , when my daughter and I drank almost everyday this juice,our vision improved.
I don’t know if it was the huge amount of antioxidants or it was a coincidence.
More over, she was diagnosed with Pre-diabetes and it seems she was cured also.
Actually, my country Exports a lot of this product to Japan,China and I don’t know if Germany too.
As a natural ingredient for natural medicine and as a natural food coloring.
Anything, you can contact me.
I will be happy to help you in your research.
Regards and Congrats for your efforts and work.
I ❤️Research!

Myriam B Jimenez
Aug 15, 2019

When do you think it would be commercially available? Also, wonderful to see a fellow Mexican woman as Dr. de Mejia, doing fantastic scientific work!

Aug 18, 2019

The corn is grown in the southland Chicago are and Southland Chicago Indiana regions. Mainly, as decoration. I grew some painted corn this year.

Feb 21, 2020

It is commercially available here in the Philippines. The price is very cheap and the results are amazing. My cousin tested drinking purple corn juice and his vision improved and his blood sugar level was also normalized.