Europe (UK, France, Italy, Germany)

See “Imported products” for more about European Union-wide labelling regulations.

France

The word for corn in French is maïs (pronounced like “my-EES”).

France is largely a corn-free paradise, though of course they serve popcorn at the movies, and street vendors at some Paris metro stations fill the air with the smell of roasting corn cobs.

Traditional French bread sold in boulangeries in France is not permitted to contain corn products. (Aside from wheat, water, yeast and salt, it can contain soy and other bean flour and/or rye flour, though. This site – in French only – explains the details of the law regulating bread ingredients). Multigrain loaves may contain corn, however, and always read the ingredients on supermarket bread. Goods breaded with breadcrumbs in French restaurants are also usually corn-free. Although a lot of prepackaged goods in France contain dextrose, much of it is derived from wheat rather than corn. This is often indicated on the packages.

Most pastries are made with pure butter or sunflower oil (e.g. “croissants nature”) and are sweetened with sugar of sugar cane or sugar beet origin. Custards made in restaurants are usually made from cream, eggs and sugar alone. Watch for dextrose-containing glazes on fruit tarts, though, which may be made with dextrose from corn.

The most common cooking oils in Paris restaurants are sunflower (in European-style restaurants) and peanut (usually in Asian-style restaurants), and most restaurants also have butter and/or olive oil on hand.

Warning: “exotique” often means that the salad or other dish in question contains corn niblets. (Clearly, corn is not mundane in France).

  • If you have to consult a doctor in France, you should know that the French equivalent to our CPS (see corn in medications) is called the Index Vidal. It is fully searchable and lists excipients, including corn starch. Of course, you should always double-check labels, especially for dextrose, maltodextrin, etc. It is still easier to obtain medications made with wheat starch or lactose instead of corn starch than it is in North America.

Germany and Luxembourg

The word for corn in German is der Mais. (Das Korn is just a general word for grain or seeds).

As far as I am aware, bread contents are not regulated in either Germany or Luxembourg, but traditionally breads (other than multigrain ones) do not contain corn and I have not had problems with bread in either country. As in France, most restaurants use either sunflower or peanut oil. Also, as in France, corn niblets often turn up in salads.

Italy

The words for corn in Italian are mais (pronunced like “mice”) and granturco.

Bread contents in Italy are not government-regulated, as in France. In Tuscany, tradition dictates that bread usually is made with just flour, water, yeast, and salt. The bread in other regions (e.g. Emilia-Romagna, Veneto) often contains corn meal. Always ask the server.

The most common cooking oils in Italy seem to be olive oil, sunflower oil and peanut oil. Corn oil is used in some restaurants, though.

Gelato is a reason in itself to visit Italy. Unfortunately the ingredients that each gelateria is legally obliged to post on its walls often do not correspond to the actual ingredients of what is served. ALWAYS ASK, and don’t take a vague answer. Many gelaterie, even the ones claiming to make everything themselves, use an ice cream base that is thickened or sweetened with dextrose, glucose, or fructose. On the other hand, it seems that a lot of that dextrose, fructose, and glucose is derived from wheat rather than corn – but since the plant from which these came is not named on the packages, it’s always a gamble.

The Veneto region is Italy’s corn belt. Polenta (a sort of corn pudding) often comes as an accompaniment to dishes in restaurants, even if it was not requested or mentioned as part of a dish. Corn fields line the train tracks connecting Venice, Padova, Verona and Milano. I do not recommend taking the train in this area in late July, when the corn is blooming!

  • Corn-free medications are about as easy to obtain in Italy as they are in France.

UK

In the United Kingdom, “corn” generally means wheat. The best way to refer to corn (in the North American sense of the word) is to call it by its British names, sweetcorn or maize.

Corn in the UK is to be found in pretty much the same range of foods as in Canada, with the added irritation that labels on prepared foods often have the ambiguous designation “vegetable fat” instead of specifying the plant(s) of origin. Note: in the UK, unlike in Canada, products containing vegetable oils may be called “butter” or “ghee.” Always read the fine print. In my experience, restaurant employees sometimes are not aware that the fats they use are actually “vegetable butter” or “vegetable ghee,” possibly containing corn oil.

British culture on the whole is very concerned with sustainability. As a result, corn-based substitutes for plastic take-out containers are becoming more and more popular in the country. For instance, I have seen disposable jacket potato containers made from corn. As well, the London-based restaurant chain Pret a Manger used corn-based plastics in their yoghurt pots in 2006, although they switched back to petroleum-based plastics in early 2007. (Their Sustainability Manager told me in an email (July 17 2007) that the results of a recent sustainability assessment indicated that using recyclable petroleum-based plastics is currently better for the environment than using compostable corn-based plastics. The company plans on switiching back to plastics made from corn as soon as urban composting programs become common in the UK).

On the bright side, many breakfast cereals that contain corn in North America are available without corn in the UK, and traditional (corn-free) oatcakes and porridge are almost always available.

  • Corn-free medications are more difficult to obtain in the UK than in France or Italy, but easier to obtain than in North America.

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