Huitlacoche (pronounced whee-tla-KOH-cheh) is a soft, dark-colored, and spreadable ingredient. It is also commonly referred to as Mexican truffle, corn smut, or fungus.
Huitlacoche is basically a plant disease that grows on corn, specifically around the kernels and the ears of corn. It is usually inflated and grey in color. Huitlacoche greatly resembles river stones. In the culinary world, huitlacoche is an ingredient used in a variety of dishes including sauces, soups, and enchiladas.
The origin of huitlacoche can be traced back to Mexico. The name itself is Nahuatl, a language that is spoken by Aztecs. A lot of people in Central Mexico still speak Nahuatl to date.
Back then, maize/ corn was a staple in the Aztecs’ diet. Therefore, they came across huitlacoche on several occasions. The locals mostly used the fungus in stews and tamales.
The Native American Zuni and Hopi tribes also used huitlacoche in their diets from a long time ago. People of the Zuni tribe believed that huitlacoche symbolized the ‘generation of life’. Therefore, they held it in very high regard. The Hopi tribe called it ‘nanha’.
Indigenous peoples of the Southwest incorporated huitlacoche into their dishes for several centuries. In fact, they used it in their ceremonies and also for medicinal purposes.
Huitlacoche is very rich in protein. It has more protein content compared to corn. It also contains an essential amino acid, lysine, which is not found in corn.
Let’s face it, letting plant-ruining diseases creep up on your crops is not something every farmer would be okay with. Farmers outside Mexico always destroy plants that get infected with any disease. At the moment, there are new strains that are resistant to plant diseases.
The good news is that culinary awareness has made huitlacoche quite popular. It has even become a delicacy in the United States.
People in the United States started using huitlacoche in 1989 after Rosa Mexicano restaurants introduced it in their menu. A lot of people took interest in it and started incorporating it into their dishes.
Huitlacoche season is basically the same as the corn season. However, with huitlacoche, you do not wait to harvest them when they are ready.
They are harvested immediately they are seen. Huitlacoche normally grows during the rainy season, so that is when they are harvested. Therefore huitlacoche season is between the months of May and November.
Where to buy huitlacoche
Most Mexican food specialty stores stock huitlacoche. You can also buy them at Mexican grocery stores or farmers’ markets. Huitlacoche is usually frozen in cans or jars. Incorporating huitlacoche into dishes is quite easy since you do not have to remove it from the corn yourself. There is also no need to prep it at all.
In case you stumble upon huitlacoche in your farm or garden, harvest them when they are puffy and light gray in color. The ones that are firm are usually very bitter because they are overripe.
I suggest picking huitlacoche that forms on the corn ears instead of the ones on the stem. The ones you harvest from the corn years usually have an amazing earthy-corn taste.
Storing huitlacoche properly
It is important that you store huitlacoche properly so that they last for a long time. Fresh huitlacoche should be stored inside the refrigerator. Just store them the same way you store mushrooms. You should know that fresh huitlacoche does not have a long shelf life. Therefore, it is important that you use them in the shortest time possible after harvesting.
The store-bought frozen huitlacoche lasts longer compared to fresh huitlacoche. Once you open your jar or can, store it inside the refrigerator. The huitlacoche will be safe to use for several weeks.
How to use huitlacoche
Huitlacoche is one of the easiest ingredients to use. Since it is a soft fungus, and technically a vegetable, you can use it raw. My favorite thing about store-bought huitlacoche is that I never have to shred, chop, or puree it before use. The fresh huitlacoche can also be thrown into dishes whole. Alternatively, you can use your fingers to delicately tear it apart.
When you use heat on huitlacoche, it turns black, so do not be surprised when it does. In fact, most dishes that have huitlacoche as one of their ingredients usually have a dark hue.
You can use huitlacoche in sauces, stews, beef, chicken, quesadillas, and corn. Huitlacoche also complements cheese, especially in quesadillas. I’ve seen recipes that call for huitlacoche in poached eggs. Simply add a spoon of huitlacoche to freshly poached eggs for the best results.
I personally like sautéing my huitlacoche then adding them to my dishes for that earthy flavor. To make a sauce for my steak, I usually puree it with cream. It is the most delicious steak sauce I have ever had.
My favorite huitlacoche quesadillas recipe
I absolutely love huitlacoche quesadillas. In this recipe, I usually use corn tortillas because that is what is used to make authentic Mexican quesadillas. I do not recommend using flour tortillas in this recipe. Without wasting any more time, let us jump right into the recipe.
You will need:
- Corn tortillas
- Cheese (Oaxaca, asadero, or Chihuahua)
- White onion
Step one: Preparing the filling
- The first thing you need to do is chop your garlic, onions, and tomatoes.
- In a large pot over medium heat, add two tablespoons of cooking oil and add the garlic, onion, and chopped tomatoes. Let the three ingredients cook for approximately 5 minutes. Make sure that you stir them frequently.
- Once the tomatoes are soft, turn off the heat and set them aside
- Using the same pot you used to cook the other ingredients, cook your huitlacoche over medium heat for approximately ten minutes.
- Once the huitlacoche is cooked and darkens in color, add in the mixture of garlic, onions, and tomatoes that you set aside.
- Add your epazote and salt then cook the mixture for another two minutes.
- Remove from heat and set the filling aside.
Step two: Assembling the quesadillas
- On your corn tortilla, place about ¾ ounce of cheese.
- Add two tablespoons of the filling you just prepared to the corn tortilla.
- Add another ¾ ounce of cheese on top of the filling.
- Place another corn tortilla on top of the cheese.
- Place a pan over medium heat and pre-heat it.
- Place the quesadilla on the pan and cook on one side. Once it starts turning brown, flip it over and cook on the other side.
- Check to see whether the cheese has completely melted. If yes, remove it from heat and serve.
Serve two quesadillas per person with green or red salsa on the side.