Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

cuitlacoche (previously or sometimes spelled huitlacoche) is the maize smut fungus, Ustilago maydis. This is a disorganized greyish mass, glossy outside and black inside when overripe, which grows on maize plants. Theoretically, anywhere maize grows so should this smut, but it thrives more readily in hot climates and drought conditions rather than in maize-marginal lands such as N. Europe. The smut invade the ovaries of the corn and kernels develop as misshapen grey-black fungi. It is edible and counted as a delicacy, particularly in Mexico, where the Aztecs encouraged it by damaging young cobs to allow the fungus entry. Supplies are exported from Mexico to the USA. In that country, it has always been viewed as a disease to be eradicated, although some farmers are now embracing it for its own charms. The flavour is earthy, some say smoky. In Mexico it is used, for example, in tamales and soups, or it can be incorporated into scrambled egg. It is available in cans as well as fresh. In an essay on the subject, Jane Levi (2006) explains how its native reputation has soared in recent years as Mexican gastronomy has embraced its pre-Columbian origins.