A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from March 20, 2009
Mexican Caviar (huitlacoche or corn smut)

Huitlacoche (also spelled “cuitlacoche") is a corn fungus (corn smut) that has long been popular in Mexican cuisine. In the 1980s, huitlacoche began to be introduced into American “Mexican” and “Tex-Mex” restaurants. Huitlacoche has been called “Mexican caviar” (cited in print since at least 1990) to highlight its appeal to refined culinary tastes. Escamoles (ant larvae) are more commonly known by the same moniker of “Mexican caviar.”

Huitlacoche is more frequently known as a “Mexican truffle.”


Mexican Food Glossary
Huitlacoche or Cuitlacoche In Mexico, Huitlacoche or Cuitlacoche is a Mexican food delicacy to be savored. Also called corn smut, maize mushroom, Mexican truffle or Mexican caviar. The kernels have a smoky-sweet flavor. Buy Monteblanco Huitlacoche at Huitlacoche

Cooks Recipes - Cooking Dictionary
Huitlacoche [wee-tlah-KOH-cheh] - (also spelled cuitlacoche; also referred to as “Mexican corn truffle") is a fungus which grows naturally on ears of corn (Ustilago maydis). The fungus is harvested and treated as a delicacy. The earthy and somewhat smoky fungus is used to flavor quesadillas, tamales, soups and other specialty dishes.

GourmetSleuth
Huitlacoche [wee-tlah-KOH-cheh]
Mexican Corn Truffle

Huitlacoche (also spelled cuitlacoche) is a fungus which grows naturally on ears of corn (Ustilago maydis).  The fungus is harvested and treated as a delicacy.  The earthy and somewhat smoky fungus is used to flavor quesadillas, tamales, soups and other specialty dishes.

Wikipedia: Corn smut
Corn smut is a disease of maize caused by the pathogenic plant fungus Ustilago maydis. U. maydis causes smut disease on maize (Zea mays) and teosinte (Euchlena mexicana). Although it can infect any part of the plant it usually enters the ovaries and replaces the normal kernels of the cobs with large distorted tumors analogous to mushrooms. These tumors, or “galls”, are made up of much-enlarged cells of the infected plant, fungal threads, and blue-black spores. The spores give the cob a burned, scorched appearance. The name Ustilago comes from the Latin word ustilare (to burn).

Considered a pest in most of the United States, smut feeds off the corn plant and decreases the yield. Usually smut-infected crops are destroyed. Some farmers may also choose to prepare corn silage out of the smutted corn. However, in Mexico corn smut is called huitlacoche (IPA: [wit͡ɬakot͡ɕe], sometimes spelled cuitlacoche), a Nahuatl word reportedly meaning raven’s excrement. It is considered a delicacy, even being preserved and sold for a higher price than corn. 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. In the mid-1990s and 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. Regardless, the cursory show of interest is significant because the USDA has spent a considerable amount of time and money trying to eradicate huitlacoche in the United States. Moreover, in 1989 the James Beard Foundation held a high-profile huitlacoche dinner. This dinner famously tried to get Americans to eat more of it by renaming it the Mexican truffle.

20 March 1990, Chicago (IL) Daily Herald, “One man’s delicacy is another farmer’s pest” (UPI), section 2, pg. 5, col. 1:
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J.—Yuppie diners in nouvelle cuisine restaurants are paying big bucks for a taste of the maize mushroom also known as the Mexican truffle or huitlacoche.

The earthy, smoky-flavored mushroom has been described as “Mexican caviar” and as titillating to the palate as the coveted European truffle.

New York (NY) Times
August 25, 2006
It’s Hot. It’s Hip. It’s Tijuana?
By WILLIAM L. HAMILTON
(...)
Then Mr. Krichman and I, with his wife, Carmen Cuenca, a director of the Centro Cultural Tijuana, drove to Saveiros, an Italian restaurant, for lunch. There were oysters roasted with mesquite, chilies stuffed with beef cheeks and mushrooms topped with huitlacoche, the corn fungus that Tijuanans call Mexican caviar.

Google Books
Mod Mex: Cooking Vibrant Fiesta Flavors at Home
By Scott Linquist, Joanna Pruess
Photographs by Shimon Rothstein, Tammar Rothstein
Published by Andrews McMeel Publishing
2007
Pg. 205 (Glossary):
Huitlacoche/cuilacoche: In Mexico, this corn fungus is a food delicacy to be savored. it is also called “Mexican truffle” or “Mexican caviar.’ The kernels have a smoky-sweet flavor.

Hungry Passport
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
To all my boy cousins—and my brother—who tried to gross me out as a child: EAT THIS!
(...)
Huitlacoche is corn fungus, a delicacy in Mexico, where it is also sometimes known as Mexican caviar. However, to gaze upon huitlacoche in its natural environment is to risk having nightmares—it’s some seriously butt-ugly stuff, all motled black, gray and yellow, and bulging like some mutant life form. It IS a fungus, after all, perched there on a tall, elegant corn plant like a hideous vampiric creature set on the utter destruction of its victim. I call it the monkfish of the plant world—you don’t want to look at it—just enjoy it. In fact, the native Nauhuatl words for it mean “raven excrement.” Yummy.

Serious Eats
10 Strange Gourmet Foods
Posted by Kerry Saretsky, December 2, 2008 at 7:00 PM
(...)
COMMENTS
I love huitlacoche. It has a characteristic taste very unique and it is commonly influenced bu the way it is cooked (garlic, herbs, etc.). Some people call it the Mexican caviar. It may be not that pleasant to look at but it is excellent.

I love it, I eat it whenever I can.
velascomike at 8:31PM on 12/02/08

Posted by Barry Popik
Texas (Lone Star State Dictionary) • (0) Comments • Friday, March 20, 2009 • Permalink