Corn fungus, also called corn smut, is created by the plant fungus Ustilago maydis. The black grains, which are distortions of normal corn kernels, are edible and considered a gourmet treat by some.
Corn smut is called huitlacoche (pronounced wee-tlah-KOH-cheh) and considered a delicacy in Mexico. Huitlacoche has an intense, mushroom-like taste that can range from sweet to savory. It is used in composite dishes such as tamales, quesadillas and soups. It is also called cuitlacoche.
When To Harvest
Harvest the galls, which resemble distorted mushrooms, when they are still a few weeks immature, two or three weeks after the ear of corn has been infected. To harvest, husk the ear, discarding the husk and corn silk. Using a sharp knife, cut the growths away from the cob.
Corn Smut in America
In New York City in 1989, the James Beard House hosted a lavish dinner to promote corn smut. As a marketing measure, the food was renamed Mexican Truffle. The menu, a creation of Josefina Howard of the restaurant Rosa Mexicano, featured the fungus in appetizers, crepes, main dishes and even ice cream.
Cooking With Corn Smut
Fresh huitlacoche, when cooked over heat, oozes an inky liquid that will color a dish black. The fungus will soften considerably as it is cooked, until it resembles a puree or black pudding in texture. It complements strong flavors, like garlic or onions, well.
Getting Corn Smut
Many grocery stores carry huitlacoche in cans. Canned huitlacoche can be added to many Mexican dishes such as quesadillas or enchiladas. Buying grocery store huitlacoche is much preferable to attempting to grow your own, since the fungus is dependent on specific heat and moisture requirements.
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