When we started our Latin American journeys in late 2015, a switch flipped and I was suddenly totally gung-ho to try any and all local foods (within a reasonable scope of not eating tooooo much meat, which in Latin America still means a lot of meat). Pair that with my theory that nothing vegetable-based can actually be gross* and you can see why I was eager to try the mouthful that is huitlacoche (weet-la-ko-chee), or, “corn smut.”
Huitlacoche is a fungus that grows on ears of corn, but rather than being seeing as a scourge (as it is in the U.S.) it is widely enjoyed in Mexico. In fact, at the end of the day, this mushroomy parasite can be more valuable than its host, both financially and nutritionally.
The first time I tried huitlacoche was in a quesadilla in Oaxaca, paired with squash blossoms and ricotta. I had conjured up the taste of deeply earthy truffles in my head, so I was a bit let down when there wasn’t much of a strong taste to speak of at all. However, corn smut can be a nutritional powerhouse, high in the essential amino acid lysine and also beta-glucans (both big players in immune support!)
Yesterday in Ajijic, Mexico we were at a wonderful Wednesday market, and I saw but a few styrofoam packages of huitlacoche for sale. I snatched one up for just a bit more than a dollar, not really sure what the heck I was going to do with it. I decided to play “What can I make with the ingredients I have?” which was a particularly fun game since we just started housesitting 3 days ago. The half and half in the fridge inspired a Cream of Huitlacoche soup (something else I had seen on a menu in Oaxaca). I used this recipe, more or less, and added in some other fresh mushrooms and rosemary I had hanging around.
I’m still enamored by the look and concept of huitlacoche, but I have to say, it just doesn’t grab me as a core component to any meal. I can’t shake the notion that it’s going to have this very deep, truffle-y taste, when really it falls on the lighter side of the earthy spectrum. But for an inexpensive, nutritious, and fun ingredient, I wouldn’t mind experimenting a bit more while we’re still in Mexico. Here’s a great article on huitlacoche; here, too!
*I’ve always maintained that although you might not like the taste of a vegetable, it can’t be out-and-out gross like meat can be, all sinewy and fatty and bony and blech. For instance, I have a strong aversion to cilantro, but I’m not “grossed out” by it. HOWEVER… I tried an herb in Puebla, Mexico that almost literally made me vomit on the spot. Porophyllum ruderale was to blame; it’s called papalo in Mexico and it might be the most vile thing I have ever put in my mouth. I’m sorry that I cannot accurately describe the taste, although it’s not a similarity to cilantro that was to blame. It tastes like bile and shame and fear and the cold, dark void. It is a terrible plant and should be eradicated from the earth post-haste.