This funny looking word was on a menu at Laurel Hardware and I had absolutely no idea what it meant. And being a Vegan (most of the time…) I had to make sure it wasn’t meat or dairy related when I was introduced to it, which is how I fell into the weird and delicious world of Corn Smut (and yes, you read that right, corn smut)!
Huitlacoche (pronounced WEET-LA-KO-CHEE) is a plant disease caused by the fungus Ustilagoo Maydis that causes smut on maize and is known in Mexico as a spectacularly popular food delicacy. It is eaten, usually as a filling, in quesadillas and other tortilla-based foods, and soups.
The consumption of corn smut originates from Aztec cuisine. Although it can infect any part of the plant, Huitlacoche usually enters the ovaries and replaces the normal kernels of the cobs with large, distorted tumors analogous to mushrooms. These tumors, or "galls", are made up of much-enlarged cells of the infected plant, fungal threads, and blue-black spores. The spores give the cob a burned, scorched appearance.
For culinary use, the galls are harvested while still immature. The immature galls, gathered two to three weeks after an ear of corn is infected, still retain moisture and, when cooked, have a flavor described as mushroom-like, sweet, savory, woody, and earthy. The name Huitlacoche comes from two indigenous words: cuitlatl (excrement) and cochi (sleeping).
The fungus has had difficulty entering into the American and European non-foodie markets as most farmers see it as blight, despite attempts by government and high profile chefs (including the James Beard Foundation) to change this perception. Here in the US of A, they have tried renaming it the “Mexican Truffle” to an attempt to give it better street cred.
Along with its awesome woody truffle-y taste, Huitlacoche was found by the food journal Food Chemistry to contain more unique proteins, mineral, and other nutritional goodies than the corn it originally started as.
Corn has no lysine contained within its husk; Huitlacoche is loaded with it. It also is packed with more beta-glucens, the soluble fiber that gives oatmeal its well-known cholesterol-cutting power than oatmeal.
So if you see Corn Smut on the menu, worry not it’s delicious, nutritious, and Vegan!