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Corn Smut (Ustilago maydis)

Corn Smut (Ustilago maydis)

Corn Smut (Ustilago maydis)

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  • Videos
  • Description
  • Habitat
  • Edibility
  • Similar Species
  • Preserving (Drying or Freezing)
  • Recipe Suggestions
  • References

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Description:

Corn smut is a plant disease caused by the pathogenic fungus Ustilago maydis that causes smut on maize and teosinte. The fungus is edible, and forms galls on all above-ground parts of corn species, and is known in Mexico as the delicacy huitlacoche; which is eaten, usually as a filling, in quesadillas and other tortilla-based foods, and soups.

In Mexico, corn smut is known as huitlacoche (Spanish pronunciation: [(ɡ)witɬaˈkotʃe], sometimes spelled cuitlacoche). This word entered Spanish in Mexico from classical Nahuatl, though the Nahuatl words from which huitlacoche is derived are debated. In modern Nahuatl, the word for huitlacoche is cuitlacochin (Nahuatl pronunciation: [kʷit͡ɬɑˈkot͡ʃin]), and some sources deem cuitlacochi to be the classical form.

Some sources wrongly give the etymology as coming from the Nahuatl words cuitlatl [ˈkʷit͡ɬɑt͡ɬ] (“excrement” or “rear-end”, actually meaning “excrescence”) and cochtli [ˈkot͡ʃt͡ɬi] (“sleeping”, from cochi “to sleep”), thus giving a combined mismeaning of “sleeping/hibernating excrement”, but actually meaning “sleeping excrescence”, referring to the fact that the fungus grows in between the corns and impedes them from developing, thus they remain “sleeping”.

A second group of sources deem the word to mean “raven’s excrement”. These sources appear to be combining the word cuitlacoche for “thrasher” with cuitla, meaning “excrement”, actually meaning “excrescence”. However, the avian meaning of cuitlacoche derives from the Nahuatl word “song” cuīcatl[ˈkʷiːkɑt͡ɬ], itself from the verb “to sing” cuīca [ˈkʷiːkɑ]. This root then clashes with this reconstruction’s second claim that the segment cuitla- comes from cuitla (“excrement”). One source derives the meaning as “corn excrescence”, using cuītla again and “maize” tlaōlli [t͡ɬɑˈoːlːi]. This requires the linguistically unlikely evolution of tlaole “maize” into tlacoche. The fungus infects all parts of the host plant by invading the ovaries of its host. The infection causes the corn kernels to swell up into tumor-like galls, whose tissues, texture and developmental pattern are mushroom-like. These gals are made up of hypertrophied cells of the infected plant, along with resulting fungal threads, and blue-black spores. These dark-colored spores give the cob a burned, scorched appearance; this is the origin of the generic name Ustilago, from the Latin word ustilare (to burn).

Nutritional value:

When corn smut grows on a corn cob, it changes the nutritional worth of the corn it affects. Corn smut contains much more protein than regular corn does. The amino acid lysine, of which corn contains very little, abounds in corn smut.

Nutrition Facts
For a Serving Size of 4 oz (112g)
Calories 69.4 Calories from Fat 54(77.8%)
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 6g
Sodium 180.3mg 8%
Carbohydrates 3g
Net carbs 3g
Sugar 0g
Fiber 0g 0%
Protein 1g
Vitamins and minerals
Vitamin A IU 0IU
Vitamin C 1.8mg 3%
Calcium 0mg 0%
Iron 0.7mg 9%
Fatty acids
Amino acids
* The Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet, so your values may change depending on your calorie needs.

 Edibility:

Edible and choice, a Mexican delicacy.

 Similar Species: 

N/A

Preserving (Drying or Freezing):

Freezes Great.

Recipe Suggestions:

huitlacoche recipe corn smut

Smut feeds on the corn plant and decreases the yield. Smut-infected crops are often destroyed, although some farmers use them to prepare silage. However, the infected galls are still edible, and in Mexico they are highly esteemed as a delicacy, where it is known as huitlacoche, being preserved and sold for a significantly higher price than uninfected corn. The consumption of corn smut originated directly from Aztec cuisine. For culinary use, the galls are harvested while still immature — fully mature galls are dry and almost entirely spore-filled. The immature galls, gathered two to three weeks after an ear of corn is infected, still retain moisture and, when cooked, have a flavor described as mushroom-like, sweet, savory, woody, and earthy. Flavor compounds include sotolon and vanillin, as well as the sugar glucose.

The fungus has had difficulty entering into the American and European diets as most farmers see it as blight, despite attempts by government and high-profile chefs to introduce it. In the mid-1990s, due to demand created by high-end restaurants, Pennsylvania and Florida farms were allowed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to intentionally infect corn with huitlacoche. Most observers consider the program to have had little impact, although the initiative is still in progress. The cursory show of interest is significant because the USDA has spent a considerable amount of time and money trying to eradicate corn smut in the United States. Moreover, in 1989, the James Beard Foundation held a high-profile huitlacoche dinner, prepared by Josefina Howard, chef at Rosa Mexicano restaurant. This dinner tried to get Americans to eat more of it by renaming it the Mexican truffle and it is often compared to truffles in food articles describing its taste and texture.

Native Americans of the American Southwest, including the Zuni people, have used corn smut in an attempt to induce labor. It has similar medicinal effects to ergot, but weaker, due to the presence of the chemical ustilagine.

huitlacoche

A simple Mexican-style succotash can be made from chorizo, onions, garlic, serrano peppers, huitlacoche, and shrimp with salsa taquera. The mild, earthy flavors of the huitlacoche blend nicely with the fats of the chorizo and bond to mellow out the heat from the peppers and salsa.

Another Mayan favorite on the Riviera Maya (Cancun to Tulum ) is to add huitlacoche to omelettes. Once again, its earthy flavors bond with the fats that cook the eggs to mellow the flavors into a truffle-like taste.

An important thing to note about huitlacoche is that the blueish color transforms into the recognizable black color only with heat. Any dish with huitlacoche must include a slow simmer of the fungus until it becomes black which also removes most of the starch of the corn and what is left is a black oily paste.

 References:

https://www.eatthismuch.com/food/nutrition/huitlacoche-corn-truffle,463733/

http://www.nbcnews.com/id/36799184/ns/health-diet_and_nutrition/t/corn-smut-tastes-great-good-you-too/

https://dengarden.com/gardening/Corn-Smut-Good-or-Bad

https://www.britannica.com/science/corn-smut