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From that category of foods that challenge our sensibilities before we bravely step beyond comes cuitlacoche! A dietary delicacy dating back to Aztec times in Mexico, also favored by some Northern Native American tribes, this curious substance goes by the American nicknames of corn smut, devil’s corn, corn mushroom and Mexican truffle. It’s a fungus that grows only in corn that has not been treated with any kind of chemicals, when corn ripens after the rainy season or random rainstorms. Its deep taste has been compared to mushrooms, but its exotic quality has often been characterized as impossible to describe, in the best way.

U.S. Governmental agencies have worked hard to eradicate it, going so far as to genetically modify corn crops to be smut-resistant, because it can destroy large percentages of them and muck up harvesting equipment. The twist here is that an ear “infected” by corn smut sells for up to 80% more than an uninfected one, as chefs discover many creative ways to utilize its unique taste in tamales, quesadillas, soups, sauces and even desserts.

Cuitlacoche also offers certain nutritional bonanzas for extra incentive: Whereas corn contains no lysine, an amino acid that fights infections, builds bone and muscle, cuitlacoche is loaded with it. It also contains more beta-glucans, the cholesterol-fighting soluble fiber found in oatmeal, than oatmeal does!

Rick Bayless, author and chef of Topolobampo in Chicago, states that his favorite recipe for a filling involves browning onions and garlic in vegetable oil, adding chopped peppers and tomatoes, cooking them down, then adding cuitlacoche and cooking it down some more. For seasoning, he favors the “big, bold flavor of epazote.” He also combines cuitlacoche with roasted root vegetable such as parsnips, carrots and rutabagas. In Mexico City, he notes, chefs use it in a sauce with roasted poblano peppers and cream.

Ingredients: Corn Truffle, Corn Grain, Onion, Vegetable Oil, Water, Salt, Citric Acid