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Huitlacoche/Mexican corn fungus - sources?

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  • Karen Aug 5, 2002 09:12 PM
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Over the years I've read about this mysterious ingredient and would really like to give it a try. It is a smut or fungus that grows on ears of corn. At one time it was considered a bad thing but from what I've read, now there are actually farmers who inoculate their crops with the spores because it is supposed to be a real treat but I've never seen it anywhere. I've heard the flavor described as like truffle with the hint of corn. I've seen recipes for quesadilla fillings, etc. Have any of you seen this anywhere and if so, where? I'd love to buy some and experiment! Thanks, ;-)
Karen

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  1. I've seen it at Monterey Market in Berkeley and I suspect that it's also available at Berkeley Bowl. Should call first - don't know the season for it. In the city there are some large produce stores in the Mission - one on 24th St. close to La Palma that has a large selection of items....I'd look there.

    5 Replies
    1. re: gordon wing

      I don't know if it has a season at all, but I've read (maybe in Diana Kennedy's cookbook) that its availability is very sporadic, because of the random way it appears. But if farmers are cultivating it now, or if there's a distributor with enough suppliers, then maybe it's not that hard to get.

      1. re: David Boyk

        Thanks - I posted this same query on another food forum and got a reply that it is available canned in Mexico. I'll try to find it from some of the on-line specialty grocers - maybe Freida's. I'm going to check with some of the Mexican/Central American grocers in the Redwood City area (not far from home) to see if they have it in cans or if they can get it fresh. I know restaurants get it because it appears on menus, although I never seem to be in the right place at the right time to try it!

        1. re: Karen
          m
          Melanie Wong

          At the Fungus Fair last fall in Oakland, at least one vendor was selling it in cans.

          1. re: Melanie Wong

            Wish I'd been there. We've been to several fungus fairs over the years but I've never seen it at any of them. I'm going to do a Google search and see if anything comes up. I'll post if I find it!

            1. re: Karen

              Just returned from mexico with several cans of the fungus. I love using it in crepes and quesadillas. It is cooked with epazote, onions and garlic. Also chile if you like some spice...Fresh is better but canned is not bad (Herdez brand or Goya or El Gallito)I have seen it sold at a Mexican restaurant in Oakland that also sells groceries(name???)but very overpriced. I am surprised it is not sold in all the mexican markets (San Pablo Av, etc) I think it is because most mexicans arriving to the Bay area are from the north where Hutlacoche is not very popular. In Chicago and Philadelphia it is everywhere...

              If someone finds it fresh LET ME KNOW! thanks.

    2. Los Cantaros Taqueria in Oakland (5412 San Pablo b/t 54th and 55th street) offers a dish called Quezadilla Azteca which is corn tortillas, cheese and huitlacoche. Haven't tried though. Menu is varied and prices are good; mole, sopes, menudo, tortas as well as the standard taqueria fare- it's maybe a bit- um- "white bread" offering whole wheat and spinach tortillas for the burrios..ugh. but the place is bright, clean, colorful and friendly.

      1. I can't tell you where to find fresh huitlacoche, but I have had the opportunity to eat it. Years ago I lived with a Mexican family. My birthday was coming up (in fact it's day after tomorrow, so the season is now) and the family insisted that they were going to make some really special delicacy quesadillas for me.

        Now, this family could cook. They routinely produced some of the tastiest, most satisfying food I've had the pleasure to eat. They were delighted that I really enjoyed the diversity of the Mexcian kitchen. Since the food prepared by the family was always excellent, and my Spanish wasn't all that fluent at that time, I knew not what huitlacoche was, but I had no reason to believe it wouldn't be wonderful. NOT.

        It tasted about like eating dirt, kind of slimy dirt at that. The quesadillas were beautiful and very well prepared. Some were of huitlacoche and other were of squash blossom. The squash blossom ones were excellent, the huitlacoche left a lot to be desired. I think I worried down about 2 of them, thankfully there were enough other people at the table so that I could claim that I wanted everyone to share in this taste treat. It is definitely an aquired taste. If you can find it, by all means give it at whirl and see if you like it.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Gayla

          Oh Gayla! I'm sooo disappointed ;-( I've read about huitlacoche many times over the years in cookbooks and have always wanted to try it; now I'm not so sure. Maybe it is one of those "acquired tastes". I hope to get my hands on some and see what we think. I'll report back when and if I get some. I've been told on another msg board that it is available canned in Mexico and someone may be bringing me some back. Stay tuned folks...

          1. re: Gayla

            I'm so surprised by the experience described on Kalypso's post re: huitlacoche tasting like dirt! I've lived in Mexico and had huitlacoche many times - just like many mushroom/fungus items, huitlacoche's taste is delicate, subtle, and very delicious. I'm going to assume that despite the fact her family knew how to cook, some dirt on the fungus snuck in to the quesadillas without the cook noticing. It happens - I've had spinach salads that I'd describe as tasting like dirt, the reason being there was actual dirt on the spinach leaves. For all Chowhounds reading this, believe me: huitlacoche is worth a try. It's like nothing else in the world, and after having it the first time, I carried a supply of Herdez's canned huitlacoche home to Seattle. Not as good as fresh, naturally, but not at all bad. And the link below will take you to a nice recipe (compliments of La Olla Latinoamericana) for Squash Blossoms stuffed with Arroz Negro, which uses huitlacoche.

            Link: http://www.planeta.com/ecotravel/reci...

          2. I've also wanted to try this for years. I've actually seen cans a few times in the Mexican groceries in The Mission. The brand (Herdez) makes a very common canned salsa. I was tempted to buy some but... I really want to like it. Most mushrooms don't can well so I'm waiting to find it fresh and hopefully prepared for me.

            In "Mushrooms Demystified" David Aurora says that it is considered good luck because it fetches a better price than the corn. I don't know about commercial cultivation but if it's available in cans there must be a pretty reliable source.

            The scientific name is Ustilago maydis. The picture below is linked in from the maize database at the University of Missouri. Looks yummy doesn't it.

            Please report back if you find it fresh somewhere.

            Image: http://www.agron.missouri.edu/db_imag...

            1. Perhaps seven years late for you, but Far West Fungi in the Ferry Building has them right now.

              4 Replies
              1. re: quasistoic

                Thanks for the tip. We picked up 1/2 pound, and this stuff is the real deal. We've had it quite a number of times in Mexico, and had been looking for it here ever since.

                This was absolutely fresh and delicious--probably on par with the best we had in Mexico, and better than a number of dishes we had in Mexico, which probably weren't as fresh or were frozen.

                Far West Fungi said they bought up the entire supply from a farmer in Dixon, who will have more in a little while.

                It's sort of ideal if Far West Fungi gets involved--I've heard over the years of individual farmers selling it to long-term customers who are "in the know" but this way, a fungus specialist is the central clearing house and farmers will know where and how to sell huitlacoche. I'm hoping the price they can get makes it something they'll embrace!

                We had it last night with seared boar tenderloin, tonight it'll be rib-eye. Yum.

                1. re: quasistoic

                  Where were you when nakasf was looking?
                  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/589488

                  1. re: hotspur

                    nakasf asked in January...not exactly fresh corn season!

                    1. re: SteveG

                      nakasf also found it in January, in a can. The soccer fan was just pointing out there was a newer huitlacoche thread.

                2. I posted a request similar to this in the LA forum and it was removed. It seems that the fresh stuff isnt legal to sell??? Go figure.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: FeedMeSeymourImHungary

                    I wouldn't be surprised if there were serious issues about selling it fresh. After all, most corn farmers consider it a dangerous blight and don't want to risk having their crop infected by someone casually transporting fresh (with active spores) stuff to markets and other places where the spores could be carried back to their farms.

                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                      Well, I read the USDA is actually trying to educate farmers that it isn't the end of the world to have corn smut. Also, the spores are mature and active when it has developed a dry and grainy texture--way past the point where it's good to eat, so that stuff shouldn't be transported anyway.

                      1. re: SteveG

                        The USDA spent $10's of millions to eradicate corn smut, mostly between 1900-1950. And it did go away, through resistant hybrids it helped to develop. Now huitlacoche is cool, and the USDA has not done so much as issue a position on it, or any guidance about transporting it or propagating it. Entrepreneurs who want to stay on the sunny side of the law and want to grow it are in an absolute twilight zone. At the moment there is no legal restriction. But if you try to grow it upwind from a large corn farm in Iowa, shotguns will be loaded. At a minimum, the USDA owes us a position paper before there truly is a violent conflict. I hope some bureaucrat will take note, seriously.

                        1. re: Veggo

                          It's legal to import it, fresh or frozen, as long as it isn't contaminated with horse's tooth ergot from the western hemisphere to the continental USA. Seems like the USDA has a position, and that it is clear.

                          Page 78 or 2-60:
                          http://www.aphis.usda.gov/import_expo...

                          1. re: SteveG

                            But to grow it in the US up wind from the farmer with the shotgun? I am examining the efficacy of becoming a producer because I am a huge believer in the undiscovered delicacy. When I lived in Mexico...I won't bore you. And I don't want to invest a half million dollars of my capital and be subject to the caprice of the USDA. Physical adjacencies between corn and corn smut producers are a real problem that has not been addressed by the USDA.

                  2. The largest producer of huitlacoche in the country is Roy Burns in Groveland, FL. 352-429-4048. $11/lb plus shipping, 10 lb minimum. The broker of his product nearest to you is Sierra Madre Mushrooms in Arcata, 707-822-1700, Trent is the owner. His price is $16/lb plus freight, 10 pound minimum. It is frozen in 5 pound bags. Trent may be able to refer you to a restaurant supplier he supplies nearer to you, who may sell smaller quantities. It is highly perishable when fresh, and is only harvested a few days a year, so frozen is the best you are likely to do. It freezes well.
                    The Goya 7 oz. cans run about $4.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Veggo

                      Lolo, the fantastically well-decorated Mexi-Turkish tapas joint in the Mission, makes wonderful huitlacoche-and-ricotta dumplings.

                    2. I bought some last week from Far West at FPFM for $18 ($) lb. Bought five bucks worth and made black rice. I liked it, La Principessa said "meh". I think it would make a nice risotto, and she would still say "meh" and I would like it. I can only describe the taste as fungal and funky.