What is huitlacoche, the parasitic fungus that became “Mexican caviar”?

The huitlacoche stands out in the Mexican gastronomy for its striking appearance, its flavor and the benefits it provides to health. In the beginning, ‘the food of the gods’ was only popular among farmers, but due to its nutritional value it is a favorite ingredient among chefs and popularly worn on All Saints’ Day.

According to the Mexican government huitlacoche is a parasitic fungus that infects corn kernels. It arrives as a microscopic spore to the crop and, by staying on the cob, it affects each grain, causing them to grow inflamed tumors.

This food proliferates in the rainy season, between June and November, due to the fungus Ustiligo maydis. Unlike other countries where it is considered a pest, Mexicans are excited to have huitlacoche in their harvest.

Huitlacoche has become famous because it can supplement people’s staple diet of basic amino acids. By being consumed with corn, the human body can fully receive all nine amino acids.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development of Mexico, the huitlacoche has various benefits.

Unlike the product it infects, huitlacoche has a higher price than corn. The infected cob costs 50% more than the normal one.

Its flavor enchants thousands of people and has conquered the best kitchens in Mexico. The chefs prefer her and do not hesitate to flatter her in interviews. As chef Lalo García told the BBC: “The aroma is wonderful… it smells of earth. It’s amazing that the earth continues to produce this kind of beauty.”

Huitlacoche looks like a cross between truffles and shiitake mushrooms, but it also has a unique smoky, sweet, and earthy flavor. For this reason, it is called ‘Mexican caviar’ or ‘Mexican truffle’.

The Mexican tradition recommends consuming the huitlacoche with the corn. Especially if it is a corn tortilla or the famous quesadillas.