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Huitlacoche: The Funky Corn – La Gourmandista

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Huitlacoche: The Funky Corn

Let's start at the very beginning… Dear Reader, Do You know what in the name of God huitlacoche or cuitlacoche is? Hey fellow Mexicans -yes, I'm seeing your faces, calm down, I know you do. But the rest of the World says ‘huit-la-WHAT?' HUITLACOCHE, sir, CUITLACOCHE, ma'am. Let me make it easier and suggest this: weet-la-COH-cheh. That may have been easier. Now, it doesn't matter if it is spelled one way or the other, they are both the same thing. Sounds like a tongue twister, what can I say? The common name in is . In French it's . Both terms mean ‘burnt', and its scientific name ustilago maydis has the Latin root ustilare that means ‘burn' as well.

But, what is it, exactly? Well, it's a parasite fungus that infects the corn cob when the spore sprouts. And notwithstanding how the entire World has snubbed it, I cannot affirm the Aztecs ate it since forever. As a matter of fact, there is no record that would allow us to unsolve the mystery. Nonetheless, we have treated is as a delicacy, for agriculture everywhere has used their best chemicals to avoid it from invading the crops, and in my country when farmers find it in their parcels, they get thrilled at least since my Grandmother was young. That is as far as my records go.

The Mexican Truffle -as some have named it- goes from gray to black in . To the naked eye, one can assume it's a mushroom. It's soft and delicate; fragile, but with a pungent flavor and great personality, just like the black truffle. They also remind us that they come from the soil; you can even taste it. Lastly, they announce, just in case one hadn't already figured it out, that they are part of the fungi kingdom, for they have flavors that might resemble shiitakes.

And yes, I know it sounds weird, and maybe not all Mexicans like it, but for me, this ‘gift from the gods' has been one of the that I have missed having access to as I've lived abroad. It is one of the flavors that built my palate from a very young age. My mom wasn't a big negotiator with me when at the dinner table. She used to say she was no restaurateur. I had to eat everything I would find in my plate, so I not only learned how to eat them, but I fell in love with them.

With this in mind, I cannot stress enough what I felt when I saw fresh huitlacoche available in the . I confess not having searched much, but one day Facebook presented me with one of those ads one finds after the app has profiled you well. I checked on the prices and was astonished. It was SO expensive, I let it pass. Then I started craving for it, and since I already knew it could be found, I started doing some more research trying to find something LESS expensive.

At the same time, I started educating myself to know about the benefits of huitlacoche. I had no idea it was so good. It turns out the Consejo Nacional de y Tecnología (CONACYT) -the National Research Center in Mexico- has carried out studies on huitlacoche and I learned that the fungus' genome sequence is available since 2006. Also, among the information I thought relevant was that huitlacoche is rich in antioxidants, it's got plenty of essential amino acids such as tryptophan and lysine, and it's high in fiber and minerals. Also, it's got up to 16.4% protein.

Among the therapeutic features of this fungus, we know it helps the body absorb calcium, it strengthens the immune system, helps forming collagen and it could even contribute in lowering blood sugar levels and lower the risk of developing chronic or degenerative ailments such as cancer and/or cardiovascular illnesses.

In summary, if corn is gold for Meso-Americans, huitlacoche is black gold, because talking dollars and sense, the price locally in Mexico can be 200% above that of healthy corn. In other latitudes, this can be even greater. Let me just share that my first finding was above US$60.00 per pound (454 g). You do the math.

This Summer we decided to stay once more at home. Our resting moment will be local in a few days' time and our food will be homemade, so pampering us with this delicacy was marvelous. The peak season of huitlacoche is July and August. First, we prepared some quesadillas; later we did crêpes in a poblano pepper sauce for this ingredient has adapted itself from the simplest foods to the fanciest ones. It's incredibly versatile, should one learn to use it wisely and delicately. It's only disadvantage, I think, it's that its shelf life is way too short. 2 or 3 days only. So, at home, we forgot about being courteous. We shared with people who we know like it just as we do, and with others whose hearts got conquered, and it seemed their eyeballs were going to pop out. I reflect on these lines, dear Friends, and rectify. It wasn't just pampering, you know. I was emotional; I cried.

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