Merry Christmas! The holidays are usually filled with all kinds of delicious foods; why not make Corn Smut a new tradition?
A member recounts
"While riding in a train in Mexico back in the 70s, an old man sat down across from me and unwrapped a sizable ear of corn that was completely covered in smut and began to eat it. I knew very well what he was eating but I could hardly believe my own eyes, so I asked him about it and he said, "Ongo de maiz. (corn fungus) Muy bueno!" He offered me a bite but I politely declined. I was actually sickened watching him eat as he explained that it was a delicacy and healthful. I remained dubious. Looking back, I wish I'd had the grace and guts to have accepted his offer.
To this day, I've never consumed corn smut but I swear, this is the year..... "
It turns out that Corn smut is actually good for you!
For years, scientists have assumed that huitlacoche (WEET-LA-KO-CHEE, the Spanish pronunciation) — a gnarly, gray-black corn fungus long-savored in Mexico — had nutritional values similar to those of the corn on which it grew. But test results just published in the journal Food Chemistry reveal that an infection that U.S. farmers and crop scientists have spent millions trying to eradicate, is packed with unique proteins, minerals and other nutritional goodies.
Huitlacoche grows best during times of drought in a 78°F to 93°F (25°C–34°C) temperature range. Aztecs purposely inoculated corn with the spores by scratching their corn plants at the soil level with a knife—thereby allowing the water-borne spores easy entrance into the plant. Smut feeds off the corn plant and decreases the yield. Usually smut-infected crops are destroyed or used only for corn silage.
It’s most popular in Mexico, huitlacoch can be regularly found as an option in meals. The consumption of corn smut originates from ancient Aztec cuisine and is still considered a delicacy in Mexico, even being preserved and sold for a significantly higher price than corn. In the United States, a high-profile huitlacoche dinner was held, which tried to get Americans to eat more of it by renaming it the Mexican truffle, which didn’t catch on.
For culinary use, the galls are harvested while still immature. Gathered two to three weeks after an ear of corn is infected, still retaining moisture and, when cooked, have a flavor described as mushroom-like, sweet, savory, woody, and earthy. It looks horrible though, which is why it’s so good for you! Corn has virtually no lysine; huitlacoche is loaded with it. It also is packed with more beta-glucens than oatmeal. Beta-Glucens is the soluble fiber that gives oatmeal its well-known cholesterol-cutting power.
Corn Smut is known as a fast moving blight that can wipe out 5 to 10 percent of a crop and the black dusty spores gum up harvesting equipment. Corn growers, along with the federal government, have spent millions of dollars eradicating it and developing smut-resistant strains, with only partial success. There may be a way to solve the problem, do the one thing Americans do well, EAT!
While eradicating the problem is expensive, embracing it may be profitable. An ear of huitlacoche costs about 41 cents to produce and sells for about $1.20. By comparison, an ear of sweet corn costs about less than a dime, with profits of just a few cents per ear.
In a seriousness, we'll have some tips on on how to control this and other fungi's and diseases in the New Year!
Yield Starts Here is a blog for farmers, focusing on increasing yield and profitability by focusing on the soil. It is managed by Craig Dick, a Blogronomist and Sales and Marketing Manager at Calcium Products. Find other articles by Craig and guest writers at .