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Understanding Corn Gluten Meal Vs. Corn Meal

What Is the Difference Between Corn Meal & Corn Gluten Meal? That’s a most common question these days as the interest in alternative weed controls continues to dominate the organic lawn care banter. Here’s an overview of the two distinctly different products:

Both corn meal and corn gluten meal originate in the same place, with whole kernels of corn. Corn meal, the same stuff we use as a coating for food, is simply ground up corn. Corn gluten meal is a bi-product — and the two products, in general, cannot be substituted for one another. Depending on how they are milled, however, they can appear almost identical.

Corn Meal — Most corn meal is made from grain corn intended for animal feed, but Purdue University in Indiana told us that 10 percent of grain corn is used for corn flakes and other edible products. Our friend, Howard Garrett, aka “The Dirt Doctor,” has long espoused the virtues of corn meal as a fungicide on the lawn — or for feet for that matter. We’ve never used it for that purpose, and several universities dispute the claim, but we’ve always found Howard to be a credible authority.

One thing corn meal won’t do is suppress weeds and it’s also not particularly useful as a fertilizer, although some value is obtained.

Corn Gluten Meal — This is derived from the part of the kernel that doesn’t get used in corn meal. It’s high in protein and nitrogen, which makes it an excellent lawn fertilizer, but is not really edible — although it won’t hurt you if you swallow some. I’ve gulped handfuls of the stuff at my public speeches just to make a point about safety.

In the mid 1980s professor Nick Christians at Iowa State discovered that corn gluten meal truncated the growth of young seedlings. The oily coating on the corn gluten meal doesn’t allow plant roots to form and the recently geminated seedlings die. A lot of conditions have to be perfect for this phenomenon to occur, however, and as we’ve posted here for the past two years, corn gluten meal is not considered a highly practical weed control tool — especially given the price increases of the past five years.

A Note About Genetic Modification — The use of corn gluten meal in weed control is allowed in many organic standards programs, including our SafeLawns Approved program, although the corn gluten meal is not technically organic because most corn is genetically modified by Monsanto and others to resist Roundup or Bt. Organic sources of corn gluten meal do not appear to be readily available, although we’d be happy to post any sources here if anyone knows of such a thing.

About The Author

Paul Tukey

An international leader of the green movement, Mr. Tukey is a journalist, author, filmmaker, TV host, activist and award-winning public speaker, who is widely recognized as North America's leading advocate for landscape sustainability and toxic pesticide reduction strategies.

Number of Entries : 1023
  • thelawnblog

    Great post for those that were looking for a good explanation of the differences between these two similar but different products!

  • Dr. Bill Sadler

    Paul’s explaination is quite good in explaining the differences. A couple other pieces maybe helpful. Corn meal is mostly corn starch and though it would provide some feeding value to the soil is not generally considered a good balance of energy to protein(nitrogen) for soil organisms. In fact if Dr. Garrett is correct, and it does control fungal activity, it might not be considered a valued item to the lawn as a fertilizer. In an organic system the goal is to grow a variety of organisms, including fungus.
    Corn gluten is a by-product of the inverted corn syrup industry and has been a valued ingredient in animal diets for years. In fact most all dog foods contain some low level of it. Mainly for palatablity, but also for it’s amino acid value. Over a decade I have used Corn Gluten and find it a wonderful fertilizer and an average weed control product. Gluten also seems to work even better if it is paired with another non-gluten type lawn food. The single source of nutrition for the soil does not seem to work as well as multiple sources.
    As is true for must products they each have a place when used in a balanced program, and may cause problems when used as a sole source at high levels.

    • Paul Tukey

      See Martha’s question about liquid corn gluten. Do you have any opinions about this product based on either your trials or the data you’ve seen?

  • Jason

    I’m glad to see someone finally mention the fact that corn gluten is made from GMO corn. We can’t let GMO’s take over. No one really knows what kind of impact this will have on our future.

  • Martha Lamar

    Does anyone have information about liquid corn gluten? It has recently been sprayed all over the development where I live in New Jersey. The spray smells like vinegar and makes white spots on shrubs, tree trunks, etc

  • Paul Tukey

    You should ask Tom Kelly from Firebelly Organics about this issue. I’ve never used liquid corn gluten and have questioned its efficacy. But I know that Tom and others believe in it and probably have better information than I do.

  • Paul Reeve

    Paul, your are too generous with The Dirt Gardener; he is among those entrepreneurs who are too careless with science and advice to the extent that they misinform their (paying) disciples. A fault I’d ascribe to his website is that it is not open to corrections of his misstatements except by paying members.
    I’m certain that you know, but many of your readers don’t understand that the corn gluten meal (not cornmeal) must be used in a strict protocol to function as a pre-emergent herbicide, and that does not show up in any popular site I’ve read on how to use it. Furthermore, its results as an effective fungicide are also very limited to specific fungi and conditions; for that matter, it is also a fine medium for growing many fungi in the laboratory. What we read from the true believers tend to be anecdotal evidences, not replicable in the scientific sense. So, I say, if it works for him or her, fine, but I’ll not bother trying it until I find a replicating test from a respected university.

  • Paul Reeve

    Keeping in mind, of course, that there is no gluten in corn gluten meal, for corn is not one of those grains that produce the two proteins that together form gluten, I believe.

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