Maíz (maize) is a Caribbean word that means the cause of life. The Nahuatl name for corn is centli. After the arrival of the Spanish, maíz prevailed in Mexico. Corn is an annual herbaceous plant. It reaches a height of over three meters, depending on growing conditions, and bears unisexual flowers. Masculine flowers sprout at the ends of stems; female blossoms grow in the axils of the leaves, forming dense spikes of tightly inserted grains, called ears.
Arrocillo corn comes from a conical maize variety endemic to Mexico.
Arrocillos produce short, conical cobs featuring numerous kernel rows of variable texture, ranging from farinaceous to popcorn-like. They form the production base of Mexico’s central agricultural zones and different varieties are used to make tortillas, tamales, antojitos, pozoles and popcorn, etc. Other parts of the plant have uses. For example, husks are used to wrap tamales or become food for livestock.
Kernels can be semi crystalline; their shape can be pointed to semi-dented; and color varies from white and yellow to various shades of purple. Kernels from the first harvest are predominantly yellow, but different-color varieties appear in subsequent harvests.
Arrocillo is cultivated in Mexico’s cool, temperate Central Highlands (the northern sierras of Puebla); as well as the North and Central Gulf, where it is consumed mainly by Totonaca, Nahua and mestizo communities. It is also grown in the upper reaches of the Central Highlands (Hidalgo, Tlaxcala, Mexico State and Michoacán), as well as in the Southern Highlands (Oaxaca), where it is consumed by Purépecha, Mazahua, Nahua and Otomí communities.
Arrocillo corn use and consumption depends on kernel color. White and yellow corn become tortillas, darker kernels are used to make antojitos or provide variety within the everyday diet, some crystalline kernel varieties, easily popped, become popcorn. Otomí communities prefer purplish, almost black kernels when making atole beverages.