Blue corn

Blue corn (also known as Hopi maize, Yoeme Blue, Tarahumara Maiz Azul, and Rio Grande Blue) is several closely related varieties of flint corn grown in Mexico, the Southwestern United States, and the Southeastern United States.[1][2][3] It is one of the main types of corn used for the traditional Southern and Central Mexican food known as tlacoyo.

Ears of corn, including the dark blue corn variety
Tlacoyo, Mexican appetizer made of blue corn
Blue corn quesadillas

It was originally developed by the Hopi, the Pueblo Indians of the Rio Grande in New Mexico, and several Southeastern Tribes, including the Cherokee.[2] It remains an essential part of Hopi dishes like piki bread. Blue corn meal is a corn meal that is ground from whole blue corn and has a sweet flavor. It is also a staple of New Mexican cuisine used commonly to make tortillas.[4]


Five Hopi blue corn cultivars identified in the 1950s showed significant differences for several traits, such as plant height, kernel weight, width of kernel, and thickness of kernel.[2] The different varieties have a color range from nearly black to blue-grey, with names derived from the "standard" blue ("sakwaqa'o"), hard blue ("huruskwapu"), and grey-blue ("maasiqa'o").[5]

The traditional Hopi blue corn varieties are extremely drought-tolerant, deep-rooted, and somewhat short plants, seldom exceeding 4 to 5 feet in height. The Rio Grande pueblo blue corn varieties are taller, reaching 5–7 feet, higher yielding, and not as drought-tolerant as the Hopi varieties. Both varieties of blue corn prefer deep, sandy soils.[6]

Other native varieties of blue corn include Yoeme Blue, a small kernel, short (3 to 4 feet), bushy, and very heat-tolerant low desert blue corn variety cultivated on the Salt River Pima Reservation in Arizona, and the Tarahumara northern Mexican variety Tarahumara Maiz Azul, cultivated in the high deserts bordering the Sierra Madre in Northern Mexico. Tarahumara Maiz Azul is widely used to make tortillas and tamales in Mexico, as well as tesgüino, a Tarahumaran corn beer.[6][7][8][9][10]

A Cherokee heirloom variety of blue corn which originated from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is called Cherokee White Eagle Corn and is distributed to Cherokee tribal members from the Cherokee Nation Seed Bank. It is a tall variety, reaching 5 to 7 feet, and is high yielding.[11]

Tortilla protein content

In 100 grams of blue corn tortilla (Sakwavikaviki), the protein content is 7.8%,[12] compared to 5.7% in yellow corn tortillas.[13]


Varieties of blue corn cultivated in the Southwestern United States vary in their respective contents of anthocyanins, the polyphenol pigment giving the corn its unique color.[14] Anthocyanins having the highest contents are cyanidin 3-glucoside (most abundant), pelargonidin and peonidin 3-glucoside.[14]

Food uses

Aside from its use in traditional Southwestern dishes of tortillas and cereal, blue corn is used commercially in products such as blue corn chips and blue corn pancake mix.[2][15]

Symbolic uses

The Hopi used corn in religious rituals, placing blue corn in a framework of directional associations in which yellow corn was associated with the Northwest; blue corn with the Southwest; red corn with the Southeast; white corn with the Northeast; black corn with the Above, and all-colored corn with the Below.[16][17]

See also

  • List of maize dishes
  • Purple corn


  1. Soleri, D; Cleaveland, D. (1993). "Hopi Crop Diversity and Change" (PDF). Journal of Ethnobiology. Society of Ethnobiology. 13 (2): 203–231. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2011-07-16. Retrieved 2010-08-07.
  2. Johnson, Duane L.; Jha, Mitra N. (1993), "Blue Corn", in Janick, Jules; Simon, James E. (eds.), New Crops, New York: John Wiley & Sons, pp. 228–230, ISBN 0-471-59374-5, retrieved 2010-07-23
  3. "About Us". Cherokee Nation. Retrieved 2019-02-21.
  4. McKee, Gwen; Barbara Moseley (1999). Best of the Best from New Mexico Cookbook: Selected Recipes from New Mexico's Favorite Cookbooks. Quail Ridge Press. ISBN 978-0-937552-93-3.
  5. Soleri, D; Cleaveland, D. (1993). "Seeds of strength for Hopis and Zunis". Seedling. 10 (4): 13–18. Archived from the original on 2010-06-20. Retrieved 2010-08-07.
  6. "Rio Grande Blue Corn New Mexico Farming Conference" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2018-09-19. Retrieved 2018-09-18.
  7. "Tarahumara Maiz Azul - Native-Seeds-Search".
  8. "Yoeme Blue - Native-Seeds-Search". Archived from the original on August 25, 2015.
  9. "Zea mays ( Yoeme Blue Corn ) - Backyard Gardener". 21 September 2016.
  10. "Zea mays ( Tarahumara Maiz Azul Corn ) - Backyard Gardener". 21 September 2016.
  11. "Seed Bank Plant Listing". Cherokee Nation. Retrieved 2019-02-21.
  12. "Basic nutrition report per 100 grams: 35239, Tortilla, blue corn, Sakwavikaviki (Hopi)". US Department of Agriculture, National Nutrient Database; Standard Reference 28. 2016. Archived from the original on 31 May 2017. Retrieved 11 June 2017.
  13. "Basic nutrition report per 100 grams: 18449, Tortillas, ready-to-bake or -fry, corn, without added salt". US Department of Agriculture, National Nutrient Database; Standard Reference 28. 2016. Archived from the original on 15 November 2017. Retrieved 11 June 2017.
  14. Nankar, A. N.; Dungan, B; Paz, N; Sudasinghe, N; Schaub, T; Holguin, F. O.; Pratt, R. C. (2016). "Quantitative and qualitative evaluation of kernel anthocyanins from southwestern United States blue corn". Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture. 96 (13): 4542–52. doi:10.1002/jsfa.7671. PMID 26879128.
  15. Aronson, Earl (December 1, 1990). "Blue Corn: A Food Fad Lasting for Centuries". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on November 6, 2012. Retrieved April 19, 2012.
  16. Stephen, Alexander M. (1936), Parsons, Elsie Clews (ed.), Hopi Journal of Alexander M. Stephen, New York: Columbia University Press, pp. 961, 1191
  17. Hieb, Louis A. (1979), "Hopi World View", in Ortiz, Alfonso (ed.), Handbook of North American Indians, vol. 9, Southwest, Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, pp. 577–580, The Hopi cultural construction of space is a quadripartite one to which are added 'up' and 'down'.… From this middle place paths of cornmeal radiate outward to the six directions and various objects (including ears of corn,…) are added according to their position in the system of correspondences.
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