What Is Huitlacoche?
Huitlacoche, which is also called Corn Smut, is a fungus that grows inside ears of corn.
Caused by the Basidiomycete fungus, Ustilago maydis, huitlacoche infects young corn, especially those that have been cut or injured, and especially after plenty of rain or humidity.
This fungus grows inside ears of corn and feeds on the corn itself to grow, and produce new spores that spread as corn pollinates.
In the US, huitlacoche is mostly referred to as “corn smut”, and any ears that have been infected with it are stripped and destroyed to avoid infecting the rest of the crop. It is considered a pest, that decreases the productive yield of corn.
In Mexico, however, huitlacoche has become a delicacy.
Rather than throwing away the ears of corn that are infected with huitlacoche, many farmers in Mexico allow workers to survey the crop and remove any of the ears with huitlacoche so that they can sell them at nearby farmers markets.
In this symbiotic relationship, the farmers get pesky huitlacoche removed for free, and the workers earn a little bit of extra money.
Huitlacoche is not as expensive as truffles or caviar, but it is significantly more valuable than corn. These mushrooms are sought after as gourmet ingredients to be added to quesadillas, enchiladas, soups, and mole.
In Central America, some farmers encourage the growth of huitlacoche by cutting young stalks of corn so that they are more easily infected.
What Does Huitlacoche Look Like?
Huitlacoche is a fungus that grows in and consumes the kernels in an ear of corn. It forms nodes that look like pebbles or rocks that are bluish gray on the outside and dark brown or black inside.
If you were to pull back the husk of an ear of corn, it looks like some of the kernels have swollen to become much larger, and turned bluish gray.
Fresh huitlacoche is drier and spongier with a lighter color. When it is canned, it appears a darker gray or blue. The cooking process makes it darker still, so you shouldn’t be alarmed if it gets much darker while sauteing in the pan.
What Texture Does Huitlacoche Have?
Huitlacoche has a soft, chewy, and spongy texture like a mushroom.
It is generally so delicate that you can pick it apart with your fingers, or chop it easily. The younger huitlacoche, the softer and sweeter it is.
The longer it is left to grow on the corn before harvesting it, the harder it becomes and the more bitter the flavor is.
Where Does Huitlacoche Come From?
This fungus grows around the world, but huitlacoche is only appreciated as food in Mexico and Central America, where it has been enjoyed for thousands of years.
The word “huitlacoche” comes from Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, and means “raven excrement”. The Aztecs believed that huitlacoche has special medicinal properties, including as an aphrodisiac.
Mexico, the land of corn and the descendants of the Aztecs, is where this gourmet ingredient has its most devoted fans. You can usually find it sold fresh at local farmers markets.
Although there are no large-scale attempts at farming huitlacoche, there are companies canning huitlacoche so that it can be preserved and shipped within Mexico, and to communities outside the country.
Is Huitlacoche Healthy? Are there Dangers To Eating Huitlacoche?
Huitlacoche is a healthy source of protein and amino acids, like many other mushrooms. Interestingly, it is healthier than the ears of corn it grows on, providing a significant nutritional boost in a number of areas.
Huitlacoche includes plenty of lysine’s, an amino acid that is deficient in corn protein, making it a healthy addition to any corn-based diet. Lysine helps to create strong bones and ward off infections.
With plenty of protein, healthy fat, amino acids, and beta-glucans that reduce cholesterol, huitlacoche is a healthy addition to your diet.
There is no danger to eating huitlacoche. Although it is technically a fungus, it is not toxic and it doesn’t need to be specially prepared to be safe for human consumption. You can eat huitlacoche raw or cooked without worrying.
How Do You Eat Huitlacoche?
Huitlacoche is most commonly enjoyed as an ingredient in traditional Mexican dishes like soups, sandwiches, tacos, quesadillas, desserts, and mole.
If you want to, you can tear it up in your fingers and eat it raw, or add it to a salad.
Sauteeing huitlacoche in a pan softens it and brings out some of the nuttier flavors. Sauteed huitlacoche makes a great addition to tacos or quesadillas.
Lastly, huitlacoche provides a deeper and more complex flavor to soups and mole, including cream of huitlacoche.
Where Can You Buy Huitlacoche?
If you happen to live in Mexico or Central America, you can go to your local farmer’s market and find it being sold alongside nearby vendors selling corn.
Fresh huitlacoche is dry and spongy, and while it is more expensive than corn, it is still an affordable delicacy.
If you live outside of Mexico, your best bet is probably to find a local Mexican grocery store and buy canned huitlacoche, which comes preserved.
This is the same product, but the canning process means it is no longer dry and has less sponginess. It imparts the same great flavor to any dish you use it in.
What Is The Season For Huitlacoche?
Although corn is grown year-round, the season for huitlacoche is the rainy season in Mexico, which lasts from May to November.
It is during the rainy months that huitlacoche has an opportunity to grow in significant amounts, and it is harvested less during the driest months of the year.
How Do You Cook Huitlacoche?
The best way to think about cooking huitlacoche is to think of it as a mushroom.
Although huitlacoche is technically a mix between corn and a fungus, and not really a mushroom per se, you can still use huitlacoche the same way you would with button mushrooms in a recipe.
The protein-rich, chewy, nutty, flavor makes a perfect replacement for meat in tacos or quesadillas and enriches the depth of flavor in a soup or mole.
You can eat huitlacoche raw or in salads, but sauteing it with oil or butter, or cooking it in a soup or sauce is the best way to extract the rich and complex gourmet flavors.
Huitlacoche Nutritional Value
Huitlacoche Nutritional Value per 112g serving (according to eatthismuch.com)
Recipes With Huitlacoche: Quick Table
|Huitlacoche And Sweet Potato Quesadilla With Chipotle Cream||n/a||n/a|
|Gourmet Black Mole Sauce With Huitlacoche||20||25 Minutes|
|Cream Of Huitlacoche Soup||n/a||45 Minutes|
This delicious and simple recipe for huitlacoche makes a great lunch or dinner and brings out the flavor in a basic meal that is a Mexican staple. If you don’t have access to fresh, canned huitlacoche will also work great.
Huitlacoche makes a great addition to quesadillas, which in Mexico is a term liberally used to describe pretty much anything you wrap in a tortilla, but this recipe in particular highlights the flavor of huitlacoche by providing cubed sweet potato as the perfect complement.
The sweet potatoes bring out the sweetness of the huitlacoche while providing a counterpoint to the smoky, earthy flavor. Chipotle cream is the perfect condiment to add to this heavenly mix.
You’ve had quesadillas, but you’ve probably never had them like this. Try adding sauteed huitlacoche and sweet potato for a meal you’ll never forget.
Preparation Time: n/a
Mole is one of the best parts of authentic Mexican cuisine – if you have never tried this rich, savory sauce based on chocolate, it’s almost impossible to describe.
The closest description I have heard is that it’s like a curry sauce, with a savory rather than sweet chocolate flavor, and Mexican spices.
It is a deeply flavorful sauce that you are meant to wipe off your plate with the last bits of fresh tortilla you have.
Adding huitlacoche only deepens and expands the flavors of this black mole recipe.
Black mole is one of the richest forms of mole already, and incorporating the nutty earthiness and sweetness of huitlacoche makes this a truly gourmet meal.
It’s not the easiest to make – mole requires many different spices and often requires many hours of cooking, but if you want to showcase the finest gourmet ingredient Mexico has, what better way than a mole? Clear your Saturday.
Preparation Time: 25 Minutes
Forget about cream of mushroom soup, this is a Mexican delicacy.
Huitlacoche is called “Mexican truffle” for a reason – it has a rich and complex palette of flavors.
You might not get every note if you chop up your huitlacoche and add it to a salad or a Quesadilla, but when you add it to a soup the smoky, inky goodness permeates every bite.
This wholesome, hearty soup is a perfect winter meal. It puts huitlacoche into a starring role and brings out the deepest and most interesting flavors that culinary adventurers are looking for.
Preparation Time: 45 Minutes
Frequently Asked Questions
Does Huitlacoche Taste Like Truffle?
Huitlacoche has a rich and earthy flavor that draws comparisons to truffles, although they are very different.
Huitlacoche is a fungus that grows inside the ears of corn, while truffles are a kind of mushroom that grows beneath the earth.
Although huitlacoche is sometimes called “Mexican truffles” or “Corn truffles”, they aren’t very closely related biologically and grow in very different environments.
However, when it comes to taste, there are enough similarities that huitlacoche has earned the right to be called “Mexican truffles”.
Truffles are a delicacy because they have a strong, complex, and distinct flavor that shines in gourmet dishes.
Huitlacoche is similar, with an earthy, nutty, rich, and smoky mushroom flavor that is impossible to imitate, and lends an elevated sophistication to some of the finest dishes in Mexican cuisine.
Is Huitlacoche A Hallucinogen?
No, huitlacoche is not a hallucinogen or a drug.
Although it is a fungus, it is not toxic or psychoactive. It is no more of a drug than a button or shiitake mushroom.
It’s possible that huitlacoche is sometimes confused with other words that come from Nahuatl and refer to drugs, like peyote or ayahuasca. However, huitlacoche is a gourmet fungus, not a hallucinogenic drug.
Where Do They Eat Huitlacoche?
Although you can find canned huitlacoche in Mexican grocery stores in North America and Europe, the vast majority of huitlacoche is enjoyed in Mexico and Central America, where it has been cooked and eaten since pre-Columbian times.
How Much Does Huitlacoche Cost?
Sometimes called “Mexican caviar” or “Corn truffles”, you might think huitlacoche is a prohibitively expensive ingredient, but it’s more like an unusually expensive ingredient (for Mexico).
You won’t break the bank to serve huitlacoche, but it’s also much more expensive than the corn it grows on, and pricey when compared to fruits, vegetables, and spices in Mexico.
The average price for a pound of huitlacoche is USD $15-20 in farmer’s markets in Mexico and the Southern US. For about the same price, you can buy it canned.
Is There A Substitute For Huitlacoche?
The flavor of huitlacoche is irreplaceable – much like it is for other gourmet ingredients like caviar, saffron, or truffles.
If you want to serve an authentic dish that calls for huitlacoche, it just won’t be the same if you replace the star ingredient.
However, if you can’t get your hands on huitlacoche and you want to recreate the flavors as close as possible, your best bet is to replace huitlacoche with mushrooms, especially strong-tasting mushrooms like portobello.
These rich, earthy, meaty mushrooms have a similar texture and provide some of the same flavor notes.
You can’t recreate a specific gourmet flavor like huitlacoche, but if you have a recipe that calls for it and you can’t find any in your city, you can swap out the huitlacoche for mushrooms and still end up with a Mexican meal that tastes fantastic.
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