More nutritious, natural flavor, non-GMO ‘orange corn’ launches in US markets

More nutritious, natural flavor, non-GMO ‘orange corn’ launches in US markets

“Orange corn,” a more nutritious, naturally selected variety of corn is now available in the U.S. markets through Purdue-affiliated startup NutraMaize LLC.

Torbert Rocheford, the Patterson Endowed Chair in Translational Genomics for Crop Improvement in the Purdue College of Agriculture’s Department of Agronomy, used a process known as biofortification to naturally increase the amount of antioxidant carotenoids in corn, making the corn more nutritious, and creating a deep orange color. The human body converts certain provitamin A carotenoids, such as beta-carotene, into vitamin A, an essential vitamin that promotes eye health and supports the immune system.

“The project began as part of an ongoing humanitarian effort called HarvestPlus to improve nutrition in developing countries,” said Rocheford, who began working on naturally increasing the amount of health benefiting carotenoids in corn over 20 years ago. “As the orange corn grew in popularity and demand overseas, I decided to grow some here and share it. The response was overwhelmingly positive. I had people tell me that the orange corn made the best grits and cornbread they had ever eaten. So, I thought it made sense to offer it to Americans.”

Rocheford and his son, Evan, co-founded NutraMaize to commercialize the corn in the U.S. NutraMaize is marketing the corn under the brand name “Professor Torbert’s Orange Corn,” and it is available at

“The name of the product is a homage to my father’s lifelong dedication to improving the world through science and agriculture,” said Evan Rocheford, NutraMaize CEO.

The bright orange corn, derived from varieties that originated in South America and the Caribbean, is not the variety eaten off the cob. It is milled to make products such as cornmeal, grits and polenta.

“People have described the corn products as having a rich, kind of nutty, buttery flavors,” Evan Rocheford said.

Torbert Rocheford developed the orange corn using traditional breeding techniques, rather than genetic modification, making it a non-GMO product. The orange color of the corn comes from natural plant pigments called carotenoids, which are the same family of compounds that give carrots their orange color. Carotenoids naturally occur in corn, but the low concentrations are typically only enough to produce a pale yellow color.

“Although it sounds like a relatively simple idea, it’s actually quite revolutionary when it comes to a staple crop like corn,” Evan Rocheford said. “We are actively breeding and developing varieties that speak to the two qualities consumers care about most: taste and nutrition.”

Because corn is used in a wide variety of popular food formats in the U.S., including tortillas, chips, and cereals, improving the carotenoid content of corn provides an opportunity to increase significantly the amount of the beneficial antioxidants Americans consume without changing consumers’ eating habits, Torbert Rocheford said.

Long-term, NutraMaize plans to sell its corn as an ingredient to food processors that produce widely consumed products like breakfast cereals and snack foods.


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