GUESS WHAT’S COMING TO DINNER?

As you gather together with friends and family this year, undoubtedly
buttered corn will quietly make its way to your Thanksgiving table. . . again. But
imagine this ordinary yellow or white veggie served in a completely different
way. What if it looked nothing like corn but was corn, only transformed into a
highly-prized delicacy originally from Central America. Would you try it? I did.
In a trendy new restaurant in Northern California, I ordered the Mexican
truffle quesadillas. (Hey, it was my birthday!) I knew I would be eating “corn
smut,” or “Huitlacoche,” as it’s well known in Mexico. I’ve seen a good deal of
corn smut while growing up in the Midwest, but never thought to eat it. I really couldn’t even look at it very long.
When my love of herbs led me to learn about mushrooms and fungus, I also learned of their many medicinal benefits. I have eaten many varieties of mushrooms and absolutely love their different flavors. I was very curious to view
this fungal presentation, mushroom-like but not a mushroom. When my entree arrived, I was totally unprepared for
its flavor and “smutty” transformation! It sure resembled mushrooms and looked absolutely delicious.
First, let me explain that Huitlacoche is a nice name for a sporous fungus that attacks and feeds off once beautiful
developing ears of corn. Technically, it is not a mushroom. The corn begins to swell with grayish blue-white growths
(galls) that eventually burst, causing the ear to turn a dark smutty color, totally deformed. A black powder may even
be visible. Fresh smutty ears of corn can sell upwards of $15-$20 a pound, since restaurateurs have just now discovered this delicacy that has been around since the Aztecs. It’s completely safe to eat.
It is a dilemma however. For centuries, farmers have been doing everything possible to prevent this corn blight.
Corn smut meant lost profits. It’s rare, but today some farmers are purposely inoculating their corn with these damaging spores in order for this smut to occur. This type of farming can bring great profits. Some Michelin-starred restaurants are experimenting with Huitlacoche in dishes like soups, sauces, tamales, risottos, omelets, stews and enchiladas. All with their own twists of course.
I think you will be pleasantly surprised if you try any dish with Huitlacoche. This mushroom-like fungus has the same
type of mouth feel, but is really smoky, really earthy and woody tasting. It even tastes sweet and you can still taste
corn! The cheese, salsa and blue corn tortilla also helped to bring out its flavors.
If you plan to offer a Huitlacoche dish this Thanksgiving and can’t find fresh smutty ears of corn,
here’s some great news. You can buy it frozen, jarred or canned in Hispanic or gourmet markets. In
this form, be prepared for the darker color and a price upwards of $14 dollars. You need rain for
smut, so you won’t find much fresh in Southern California. But throughout Summer, into Fall, a few
fresh smutty ears will appear at our Farmers’ and Hispanic markets, via Mexico.
Try this “Caviar Azteca.” You will enjoy more nutritional benefits than from
eating corn by itself. When corn combines with this amazing fungus, the metabolic patterns change in the corn, making it richer in proteins, unsaturated fats,
magnesium, calcium and lysine. You really don’t need a holiday to give Huitlacoche a try!

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