The Mexican “truffle” has a name and is huitlacoche

Proudly Mexican, huitlacoche is a delicacy not rightly appreciated
Photo: taken from iStock
03/06/2017
10:44
Newsroom
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Maize is, without a doubt, essential in Mexican cuisine. From tortilla to nixtamalized masa, this plant has multiple uses and since Pre-Hispanic times has been a symbol in Mexico.

In a sense, huitlacoche is a byproduct of corn. Specifically, it is a fungus named Ustiligo maydis, which grows as a parasite in corn, producing deformities in the kernels. In the United States, Europe, and South America huitlacoche is considered a plague and when the first signals appear, it is eliminated from entire infected crops since it spreads fast among cornfields.

This mushroom introduces itself in the grains and promotes disproportionate growth, promoting a dark grayish and whitish color in the cob.

In spite of its unattractive appearance, huitlacoche has been consumed from the ancient cultures that inhabited Mesoamerica, to current Mexican indigenous people and farmers, because it is easy to find and cook, although it is said that its culinary use increased from the 20th century. During the rainy season, between July and September, it is common to find it in open-air or popular markets.

In recent times, its acceptance and rediscovery by foreigners (especially in France, where they introduce it in crepes) have derived in its nickname as “the Mexican truffle,” for the connoisseurs say its delicate flavor is similar to the black truffle and the Japanese mushroom shiitake.

The most usual way of preparing it is cooked with garlic and epazote or tomato, onion and green chile, in quesadillas, as salsa or soup.

Scientists of the Mexican National Polytechnic Institute (IPN) studied the nutritional proprieties of huitlacoche as a functional food. Among its nutritional and pharmaceutical values are as an aid to prevent cancer, high levels of fiber, promotes essential amino acids synthesis like lysine, which helps reducing cholesterol levels in the blood. It also contains essential fatty acids sources of omega 3 and omega 6, substances that stimulate the immune system, antioxidants, and low fat.

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