Best Science Experiment in a Mexican Dish - 2012
Huitlacoche (a.k.a. corn smut)
All over the world, humans eat some strange stuff, and the Southwest is no exception. Huitacoche, or corn smut, looks a great deal like a piece of corn that's gone bad. But corn smut is a delicacy south of the border and, lately, people have been trying to bring wider recognition to this ancient delicacy.It's a tough sell. The problem is that corn smut is basically a petri dish you can eat. There is no corn smut plant — this isn't a strange-looking plant with a strange fruit. This is what happens when a very particular kind of fungus infects a corn stalk and slowly makes its way to the individual kernels in a growing ear of corn. These kernels grow into "galls," which basically are massive tumors that eventually consume the entire ear. The end result is an ear of corn that looks like a burned brain, with its blueish-black color. Tasty. For eating, the corn smut is harvested before it can fully develop and fill with spores. At this stage, the infected kernels are still moist and soft, suitable for serving with tacos and quesadillas. They possess a sweet woodsy flavor akin to mushrooms. They're also quite a bit healthier than a normal ear of corn because, in the process of corrupting the corn, the corn smut is able to create a number of useful chemicals that corn normally lacks. So it's tasty, it's nutritious — and it's still called corn smut. And maybe that's the problem. If you dare try it, we suggest Los Sombreros; it's a house specialty at the sweet little Scottsdale Mexican restaurant.