Huitlacoche (Corn Smut): An Interesting Mexican Delicacy

Most of you have probably seen black, swollen, and spongy masses that grow on ears of corn. It looks very unappetizing. However, huitlacoche is actually a delicacy in Mexican cuisine.

The indigenous people of Mexico have consumed huitlacoche for centuries. In fact, they consider it a gift from the gods. In this article, we will explore what huitlacoche is, how it tastes, how to cook it, and what are its health benefits.

What is Huitlacoche?

Corn smut (huitlacoche)

Huitlacoche (pronounced weet-la-COH-cheh) is also known as corn smut, cuitlacoche, or Mexican truffle. It is a plant disease that causes smut – multicellular fungi with many spores – to grow on maize and is a delicacy in Mexico. The fungus affects every part of the corn and causes the kernels to swell up into mushroom-like growths called galls. The galls are blue-grayish with some white and have a soft and velvety texture.

Also Read: Top 30 Most Weirdest Foods From Around the World

Huitlacoche dates back to the Aztecs who enjoyed the naturally occurring corn fungus as part of their diet. They would use the corn and the attached fungus in tamales and stews. Many Indigenous tribes also consumed the fungus and viewed it as a delicacy. The Hopi called the fungus “nanha,” and the Zuni held the ingredient in such high standing that they said it symbolized the “generation of life”. The name huitlacoche is Nahuatl, which is the language of the Aztecs still spoken by more than a million people in Central Mexico today.

Most farmers consider huitlacoche a disease and try to prevent or eradicate it from their crops. However, some farmers intentionally cultivate huitlacoche by inoculating their corn plants with spores or by letting them grow naturally. Huitlacoche is harvested before the spores mature and become dry and powdery.

Is Huitlacoche Safe to Eat?

Huitlacoche is safe to eat as long as it is harvested from corn that has not been sprayed with fungicides. It is edible, delicious, and still a popular ingredient in Mexican dishes today.

How Does Huitlacoche Taste Like?

Huitlacoche has a unique flavor that is hard to describe. However, many people agree that it has a very pungent earthy, sweet yet savory and woody taste with flavors of mushroom and corn.

How Do You Cook Huitlacoche

Huitlacoche can be cooked in various ways, depending on your preference and the recipe. You can use fresh or frozen huitlacoche for your dishes. However, fresh huitlacoche is always better if you can find it. To prepare fresh huitlacoche, you need to peel off the husks of the corn ears and cut off the fungus-covered kernels with a knife. You can then rinse them under water and drain them well.

One of the simplest ways to cook huitlacoche is to sauté it with some onion, garlic, salt, and pepper until it turns black and releases its juices. You can then use it as a filling for tacos, quesadillas, or omelets, or add it to soups, stews, or sauces. You can also mix it with cheese, cream, or sour cream for a creamy texture and flavor.

Some of the most popular dishes that use huitlacoche are:

  1. Huitlacoche soup: A creamy soup made with chicken broth, milk, butter, flour, onion, garlic, epazote (a Mexican herb), and huitlacoche.
  2. Huitlacoche crepes: Thin pancakes filled with huitlacoche and cheese sauce.
  3. Huitlacoche tamales: Corn dough stuffed with huitlacoche and cheese or meat and wrapped in corn husks or banana leaves before steaming.
  4. Huitlacoche quesadillas: Tortillas filled with huitlacoche and cheese and grilled or fried until crispy.

Is Huitlacoche Good for You?

Huitlacoche is not only delicious but also nutritious. It is rich in protein, fiber, antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins. Studies also show that huitlacoche contains more protein than corn and more lysine than wheat. Lysine is an essential amino acid that helps build muscle and support the immune system.

Huitlacoche also contains more antioxidants than blueberries. Antioxidants are compounds that protect the cells from damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that can cause inflammation, aging, and diseases. Huitlacoche has high levels of anthocyanins and carotenoids, which are antioxidants that give huitlacoche its dark color.

Additionally, huitlacoche is a good source of minerals such as iron, zinc, magnesium, phosphorus, and selenium. It also provides vitamins such as B1, B2, B3, B6, B9 (folate), C, and E. These nutrients are essential for various functions in the body such as energy production, blood formation, nerve function, skin health, and immune response.

Some studies have shown that huitlacoche can lower blood sugar levels, boost the immune system, and prevent cancer.

Where Can You Buy Huitlacoche?

Huitlacoche is not very common in the United States, but you might find it at some Mexican specialty stores or online.

The rainy months are the best time to find fresh huitlacoche. If you are lucky enough to spot it on fresh corn ears, make sure to pick it when it is light gray and spongy, not firm and bitter. Avoid firm or black galls that are overripe.

Nowadays, farmers can grow huitlacoche by inoculating corn plants with the fungus spores. This ensures year round supply.

You can store fresh huitlacoche in the refrigerator for up to a week or freeze it for longer use.

Conclusion

Huitlacoche is a fungus that grows on corn and turns it into a delicacy. It has a complex flavor that can enhance any dish. It also has many health benefits due to its high protein, fiber, antioxidant, mineral, and vitamin content. If you are curious about huitlacoche, give it a try and discover why it is called the Mexican truffle.