The Strange Historical Connection Between Corn And Vampire Stories

Vampire mythology fascinates many of us, says NBC News. Whether it's their strange seductive charm or that they don't physically age, there's something about them that's lured the minds of humankind. From Bram Stoker's "Dracula" to Anne Rice's "Interview with the Vampire," the creature is a mystery that seems to have endured in both historical fiction and superstition alike. 

Throughout history, people in various cultures have held a fear of the unknown and the dead rising from the grave, according to The Irish Times. Bram Stoker most likely based his novel on stories that came from Eastern Europe and archaeological digs have shown evidence of bodies where the buriers have taken measures to make sure the person didn't come back to life (per USA Today).

We now know there are particular conditions that mimic vampiric traits. Queen's University explains that one in particular, porphyria, is an inherited blood condition that displays symptoms such as sensitivity to sunlight, receding gums (which could have made teeth look fang-like), and an aversion to garlic (which caused pain in porphyria sufferers due to its sulfur content).

However, porphyria wasn't the only condition that could have given rise to vampiric folklore. Researchers have suggested both rabies and tuberculosis could have also inspired the superstition (via Visible Body). And now, there's another disease that's been added to the mix related to the use of corn, which Alimentarium says began after Christopher Columbus brought it to Europe from the Americas.

That's one corny vampire

Alimentarium notes that corn didn't become a popular commodity in Europe until the late 1500s when hybrid varieties were developed enabling it to be grown in any climate. It was then used as a basic nutritional source. Jeffrey and William Hampl noted its widespread use coincided with the rise of the Eastern European vampiric myth. The Hampls published an article in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine explaining that the disease pellagra was caused by malnutrition. If raw corn is not put through a process known as "nixtamalization," it can pass through the digestive tract and inhibit the absorption of B3 (niacin) into the system.

When unprocessed corn is relied on for the majority of sustenance, this can lead to pellagra. Symptoms include dermatitis (which would make sufferers sensitive to sunlight), dementia (which may have caused insomnia and lack of sleep at night), diarrhea, and death. The Hampls suggested that because sufferers' families would have had similar diets, they may have had similar symptoms and seen this as the dead exacting their revenge on the living. Furthermore, they noted that the word "vampire" entered the English language in 1734 — a year prior to pellagra being described by a royal physician as a "disgusting indigenous disease" occurring in Spanish peasants. It was also noted that, besides fresh blood on the corpse, a "tell-tale sign of vampirism was a ring of cornmeal around the mouth of the deceased."