Does Canned Corned Beef Actually Contain Corn?

Whether it's canned or cooked fresh, corned beef can be prepared in a variety of ways. Some people prefer to eat corned beef alongside cabbage and potatoes for their St. Patrick's Day celebrations, while others enjoy having it between two slices of rye bread and topping it with mustard. If breakfast is more your thing, you can always have some corned beef hash alongside some eggs and toast. But have you ever noticed that corned beef doesn't really taste like traditional corn?

Corn is grown for its edible kernels and is used to make a wide variety of products that you probably already have in your pantry. Cornmeal, corn starch, corn flakes, Corn Chex — these are just a few examples of the many different foods that contain corn as an ingredient. Even candy corn — one of the Halloween season's most divisive treats — gets its name from the corn syrup that is used to make it.

And then there's corned beef. Corned beef is a popular type of preserved meat that has been around for many years. It is made by curing and then pickling beef in a brine solution that often contains ingredients such as spices, garlic, and bay leaves. The meat — which is essentially a cut of beef brisket — typically becomes pink when it has been through this process and maintains a grayish-pink hue even when it is fully cooked. Is corn a part of the process, though, as the name implies? 

What's in a name?

Similar to foods like Rocky Mountain oystersBombay duck, and ladyfingers, it turns out that names can be deceiving.

Traditionally, corned beef was made by curing beef with large chunks of rock salt, or "corns" of salt. This gave the beef its signature flavor and prevented it from spoilage before modern refrigeration techniques were available. Slabs of meat would be covered with salt and then packed tightly in barrels to cure while being stored for later consumption.

So, does it actually contain corn? No, canned corned beef does not contain corn. The raw cuts of packaged meat that you can cook fresh at home don't either. The beef brisket is simply "corned" in the brine containing pickling spices, which can include things like mustard seeds, bay leaves, coriander seeds, peppercorns, and thyme.

There are, of course, recipes out there that do call for the addition of corn to corned beef, such as SparkRecipes' corned beef with corn recipe, which (you guessed it) calls for the literal addition of canned corn added to chopped-up corned beef. These types of recipes are generally meant to be more of a creative twist on an otherwise classic dish. Whether you choose to use corn or not is really up to you. But if you're looking for that true corned beef flavor, it's best to stick with traditional methods rather than adding any additional ingredients.

Nothing corny about corning

The process of corning meat has been around for centuries and still remains an important and popular method of preserving food. Pastrami is another example of a cured meat product that utilizes the corning process. The difference, however, is that whereas corned beef is prepared by boiling the slab of brisket, pastrami is usually cooked by smoking or slow-roasting it.

Today, most commercial corned beef is made with a brine solution (water, salt, and spices). The brisket is first trimmed of fat and then soaked in a brine solution for several days. This process tenderizes the meat and infuses it with flavor. After the curing process is complete, the corned beef is cooked until even more tender and then canned into the rectangular tins that line the shelves of the canned meat section of your local grocery store.

Canned corned beef has a long shelf life and does not require refrigeration, making it perfect for stocking your pantry or taking on camping trips. It's also incredibly versatile; corned beef can be used in dishes like hashes, pasties (which is what pocket pastries are called in the U.K.), and pies, or simply enjoyed on its own with some potatoes and carrots.

Despite the misleading name of this popular meat dish, corned beef is still a delicious and satisfying option for any dinner or celebration. Whether you're enjoying it alongside cabbage or hash browns or packing it into a towering sandwich, corned beef is sure to satisfy your taste buds.