Maize: A Paramount Staple Crop in the Context of Global Nutrition
The maize plant (Zea mays), characterized by an erect green stalk, is one of the 3 great grain crops of the world. Its kernels, like other seeds, are storage organs that contain essential components for plant growth and reproduction. Many of these kernel constituents, including starch, protein, and some micronutrients, are also required for human health. For this reason, and others, maize has become highly integrated into global agriculture, human diet, and cultural traditions. The nutritional quality and integrity of maize kernels are influenced by many factors including genetic background, environment, and kernel processing. Cooking procedures, including nixtamalization and fermentation, can increase accessibility of micronutrients such as niacin. However, man cannot live on maize alone. For one-third of the world's population, namely in sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin America, humans subsist on maize as a staple food but malnutrition pervades. Strategies to further improve kernel macronutrient and micronutrient quality and quantities are under intense investigation. The 2 most common routes to enhance grain nutritional value are exogenous and endogenous fortification. Although exogenous fortification, such as addition of multivitamin premixes to maize flour, has been successful, endogenous fortification, also known as “biofortification,” may provide a more sustainable and practical solution for chronically undernourished communities. Recent accomplishments, such as low-phytate, high-lysine, and multivitamin maize varieties, have been created using novel genetic and agronomic approaches. Investigational studies related to biofortified maize are currently underway to determine nutrient absorption and efficacy related to human health improvement.
Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety (2010) 9 (4): 417-436 [DOI: 10.1111/j.1541-4337.2010.00117.x]