To shuck or not to shuck? The debate over the etiquette of in-store corn husking heats up

Just because your local grocery store keeps disposal bins near the corn station doesn't mean you should use them

By Joy Saha

Staff Writer

Published August 23, 2023 1:00PM (EDT)

Fresh ear of corn (Getty Images/nikamata)
Fresh ear of corn (Getty Images/nikamata)

One of my fondest food-related memories growing up is watching my father shuck corn at our local supermarket. Sure, it's a rather unusual memory to hold onto to this day. But there was something so mesmerizing about seeing my father peel back the husk with such ease and dispose of it in a nearby bin. One hand firmly gripped the base of the corn while the other peeled and threw, peeled and threw — until all that was left was, well, fresh and delicious corn.

I've always assumed that corn was meant to be shucked at the grocery store before purchasing. So, it came as a major surprise when I learned that several markets now advise their consumers to shuck their corn at home. Take for example Weis Markets, who put up a sign urging consumers to shuck corn outside of their stores solely for the safety of other shoppers. The sign prompted a heated debate on Facebook, with some saying they will continue shucking their corn (as long as disposal bins are around) and others calling the former wasteful, abhorrent heathens.

The discourse also reached Reddit, where the majority of users agreed that corn should not be shucked in stores. In a thread posted two years ago, user u/LividLadyLivingLoud argued that you don't need to peel back the husk of corn in the store to check if it's fresh or not. 

"You absolutely shouldn't peel it back, poke a fingernail in it, and then reject it by leaving the now-ruined-and-contaminated corn on the sales display," they wrote. Instead, all you need to do is "feel it and weigh it." Ears with "soft healthy tassels (not wet, not brittle), tight green husks, thick, firm, and heavy for their size," are guaranteed to be both tasty and juicy. And corn with firm and full bases are also guaranteed to have flavorful kernels.   

Shucking corn, only to leave it behind to rot alongside a batch of fresh produce, is incredibly wasteful and disrespectful to other shoppers, u/LividLadyLivingLoud continued. The worst purchase, however, is buying pre-shucked corn that's on a Styrofoam tray wrapped in plastic. "Corn has perfectly good, all natural, biodegradable packaging," they explained. "It doesn't need Styrofoam and Saran wrap."

Corn should only be shucked right before it's being prepared, wrote Taste of Home's Erica Young. "The husks keep the corn from drying out. If the corn is too bulky to fit in your refrigerator, you can remove a few of the outside leaves, but keep at least a couple of layers of husk intact. This will help keep them moist."

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Although longtime corn shuckers weren't able to argue much on the basis of science, they claimed that in-store shucking was something they did (and will continue to do) purely out of habit. A few even claimed that shucking in stores is only acceptable if you're planning on cooking your corn that same day. "There's nothing wrong with shucking it at the store if you're going to use it that same day, I reckon," said user u/GingerMau.

Interestingly, the practice also seems to be more prevalent in certain countries:

"I'm Canadian. Yes, walk into our grocery stores and see huge bins beside corn for husks," wrote user u/zoomiepaws. "I thought you were supposed to peel to see the corn and besides keeping your kitchen clean." In the same vein, user u/LoquatiousDigimon said, "I'm in London and before Covid, people were always shucking their corn in the store but since the pandemic that seems to have stopped…I think maybe because people were shucking them to see if they were good/not rotten inside and now it's more taboo to touch produce and not buy it."

So, to shuck or not shuck? Considering that several former in-store shuckers were compelled to abandon their old ways thanks to Reddit, we'll say the answer is to not shuck your corn in stores. I certainly won't be doing that the next time I purchase corn at my local grocery store or farmer's market.

And I guess it's time I tell my family not to do so either.

By Joy Saha

Joy Saha is a staff writer at Salon. She writes about food news and trends and their intersection with culture. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park.


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