14 September 2007

Huitlacoche

“Huitlacoche” (wheet-lah-KOH-cheh) or as it is sometimes called “cuitlacoche” (kweet-lah-KOH-cheh) is a grayish black fungus that is scientifically named “Ustilago maydis” and grows naturally on ears of corn. The name “huitlacoche” comes from the Aztec Nahuatl words for “black as a raven” and “excrement” or in other words they called it “black shit” which is about what it looks like when cooked. Nothing complicated about that! Most American farmers revile it and call it “corn smut” or “devil’s corn” but it is prized in México as a culinary delicacy and is sometimes called ”the Mexican truffle” by gourmet chefs. It is basically a fungus that invades growing corn kernels and changes them into soft blackish lumps of flesh covered by a silvery grayish skin. Huitlacoche seems to grow best after heavy rains preceded by a drought.

Huitlacoche is used to flavor quesadillas, crepes, tamales, burritos, soups, and all kinds of other dishes. In fact, huitlacoche is one of those certain food items along with tomatoes, mushrooms, asparagus, and seaweed that are said to have a distinctive flavor beyond the traditional categories of sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. This fifth flavor, or “savoriness” or “meatiness” is called “umami” by the Japanese and xiānwèi by the Chinese. The Aztecs believed that huitlacoche gave them special powers and was thought by them to be an aphrodisiac.

You can buy canned huitlacoche in the U.S. in Mexican groceries or in gourmet specialty stores but fresh huitlacoche is hard to come by and very expensive. It can cost anywhere from ten to twenty dollars per pound depending upon the region where you live. Fresh, young, immature huitlacoche is the best because ripe huitlacoche tends to be dried out and a bit powdery. For over a hundred years people have been trying to prove that huitlacoche is bad for you but some Mexican farmers eat it regularly and don’t seem to suffer any ill effects. So go ahead, check it out. It will be one of those things that you can you can point to with pride on your “Been there…done that!” list.

4 comments:

Bob Cox said...

Bob you're right...been there done that... Huitlacoche is a popular restaurant item in Tlaxcala, but once was enough for me. It's a little too Aztec for me...I like most Mexican food but some things still give me a little culture shock like..
Gusanos de Magueyes... worm larva..
Escamoles....... Ant Eggs (do the ants cluck after laying them?)
Bull testicles ... No thank you, I'll pass.
Blood sausage... I forget the name at the moment because some things I've erased from my memory bank.
My father in law said blood sausage has killed more people than the revolution.
Besides... How much is an order of ant eggs? $200 pesos?? How much is a Steak? $110 pesos?? HMMMM.. I think I'll have a steak.

Gaby said...

As a mexican, I haven't heard about blood sausage but here in Monterrey is the "Fritada" de cabrito or fried goat blood and it tastes really good.

p.s. the huitlacoche tastes awesome in quesadillas and soups!

Juan Carlos Cuevas-Rivera said...

As a mexican I can tell you that all of those stories that huitlacoche has killed more people than the revolution, are just urban legends! come on! give it a try! as usual be careful where do you eat it, and who prepares it. But one thing that I can tell you is this, done the right way and by the right person you'll find your self falling in love with its uniqueness!

Juan Carlos Cuevas-Rivera said...

Oh! and another thing, the blood sausage is called "moronga" and as far as I know it can be made out of goat, chicken, cow, pork etc. the same as with any other exotic food, who prepares it and how it's prepared makes a whole lot of difference. But again, whoever said that it has killed more people than the revolution is just being way too funny, or ignorant. there is a difference between not liking a dish from another country just because a personal point of view, and spreading ignorance, when traveling and exposing oneself to another culture is supposed to enhance your ideas and point of view!

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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.