Huitlacoche. Cuitlacoche. Corn Smut. Corn Truffle. Mayan Truffle. All these names refer to the same thing – deliciousness!
Sometimes, under rainy or excessively humid conditions, the fungus Ustilago maydis attacks organic corn and the kernels change into large, bulbous blue-grey, mushroomy galls that taste simultaneously of corn and mushroom but also with a woody, rich earthiness.
Considered a blight by many North American farmers, work has been done in the US and Canada to eradicate the fungus and produce smut-resistant strains. However, the Aztecs understood it’s value as a tasty food source. Although the Aztecs would not have known this, when the fungus converts the corn into huitlacoche, it becomes an even higher protein source than the corn itself is, as well as becoming a rich source of Lysine, an amino acid our bodies need but cannot produce.
This corn fungus has different names, depending mostly on whom you’re speaking with. The name most used in México is huitlacoche (pron: wheat-la-ko-chay) or sometimes Cuitlacoche. Those whom consider it a crop blight, refer to it as Corn Smut – clearly missing out on it’s culinary applications. However, more and more, chefs abroad are are discovering this fungus and referring to it as Corn Truffle or Mayan Truffle. This should to be your first hint that huitlacoche is something to be looked at more closely.
In México, huitlacoche can often be found fresh in markets and if fresh huitlacoche is unavailable, it’s usually found in jars or canned. Huitlacoche can be used in the same way any other mushroom can, it can be mixed into meat dishes, added to tamales or tacos, or just about anything else you please. Once heated, fresh huitlacoche turns an inky black which can be used to compliment or even colour a dish, just remember this when adding it to dishes as it might also turn them an unappealing greyish-brown!
In Chiapas, huitlacoche is used to make a drink called Esmoloc and in Tlaxcala, it’s used to make a special mole and all over the country, huitlacoche is a popular choice for adding to soups, filling quesadillas, tacos, empanadas, eaten with eggs, or even in crepes. Sauces can be made from it, or a savoury filling for chicken or fish. Get creative, experiment and have fun!