Huitlacoche – a.k.a. Corn Smut, Mexican Truffles

If you’re not already familiar with huitlacoche – a fungus that grows on corn that is also known as corn smut – you might think of it as a fairly nasty dining option. But the Mexican culture has been enjoying this culinary delicacy for centuries. Just recently, scientists have also confirmed that this unlikely health food is filled with unique proteins, minerals and other nutritional benefits.

Huitlacoche

Huitlacoche is also referred to as “the Mexican truffle. Image credit: Kai Hirdes

About Huitlacoche

When the ancient Aztecs embarked on the task of naming corn smut, they decided on “huitlacoche” which means “sleeping excrement.” And if you’ve ever seen it in its natural state, you understand why.

Also referred to as “the Mexican truffle,” huitlacoche is a culinary delicacy that is actually “an infection of the fungus Ustilago maydis in the ovaries of the corn plant, a distention of the kernels into tumorous galls, and the spreading of fungal threads and black spore.” Yum! Who’s hungry?

But despite its appearance, huitlacoche, just like truffles and oysters, is quite tasty. Its rich, slightly sweet and earthy flavor adds depth and dimension to many traditional Mexican dishes.

Huitlacoche

In the process of infecting corn kernels, huitlacoche actually synthesizes nutrients that were either completely absent or barely existent in the original corn. Image credit: Nsaum75

Nutritional Value of Huitlacoche

In the process of infecting corn kernels, huitlacoche actually synthesizes nutrients that were either completely absent or barely existent in the original corn. One of those nutrients is lysine. Lysine is an essential amino acid that helps the body fight infection and strengthen bones.

Huitlacoche also contains more beta-glucens than oatmeal. Beta-glucens are the soluble fiber that helps lower cholesterol.

But How Does It Taste, Really?

Skeptical of all I had seen and heard, I decided to sample these gnarly nuggets for myself. I traveled to Los Sombreros on Scottsdale Road in Scottsdale, AZ. Prior research had shown that their menu contained a few items showcasing huitlacoche.

I ordered both the huitlacoche quesadilla with goat cheese and chipotle tomato sauce and the huitlacoche crepas served with goat cheese, blue cheese and pomegranate sauce. Fearing that the sauces and sides might disguise the actual taste and texture of the huitlacoche, I also asked my server if he could put a little huitlacoche straight up on the plate as well. He graciously accommodated my request.

Huitlacoche

A huitlacoche taco with squash blossoms and corn. Image credit: Cuauhtemoc F Ramirez A

As I suspected, when tasting the huitlacoche inside the quesadilla and crepas, I was unable to single out its taste or texture. But when I tried it by itself, I found it to be surprisingly delicate. There was a nutty, earthy flavor to it with just a hint of subtle sweetness. It was – to put it simply – very tasty.

Huitlacoche may never make it as a staple of the American diet, but if you ever see it on a menu, I suggest you give it a try. It certainly is a conversation starter, and may just change the way you think about fungus.

Cherri Megasko did not receive any compensation or consideration of any type from the aforementioned establishment in exchange for writing this article.