Huitlacoche growing on an ear of corn
What Is Huitlacoche, And How Do You Prepare It?

Huitlacoche — a delicacy in the culinary world — is actually a plant disease that grows on ears of corn around the kernels in puffy, gray clouds that look a lot like river stones.

Where It’s From And When It's In Season

The name huitlacoche is Nahuatl — the language of the Aztecs still spoken by over a million people in Central Mexico today. The Aztecs used the fungus mainly in tamales and stews.

The Native American Hopi and Zuni tribes have also used the fungus from the get-go. The former called it "nanha," and the latter considered it a symbol of the "generation of life."

Huitlacoche has been a significant food item for indigenous peoples of the Southwest for centuries, with the fungus being used for ceremonial, culinary, and medicinal purposes.

Although huitlacoche has high amounts of lysine and more protein than regular corn, many farmers outside Mexico kill infected plants, and new strains of corn are resilient to it.

The fungus became semi-popular in the U.S. after Josefina Howard, founder of Rosa Mexicano in New York, served a huitlacoche-focused dinner at the James Beard House in 1989.

Huitlacoche follows the corn season. However, instead of harvesting it when the ears are ripe and ready, you get it whenever you see it — usually around the rainy months.

How To Prepare Huitlacoche

Since it's a vegetable, you can use it raw, and because it's a soft fungus, you don't have to worry about chopping, pureeing, or shredding — especially when it’s canned or frozen.

Fresh huitlacoche can be used in dishes as a whole or gently torn apart with fingers. Be ready for the gray fungus to turn black with heat; it’s a signature property of the veggie.

Joe Quintana, the executive regional chef of the Rosa Mexicana chain, says the ingredient goes with so many things you will have no trouble finding a way to play with it.

"We sautée and incorporate huitlacoche into sauces or dishes for its earthy flavor [...] and we have even made huitlacoche flan for more of a savory twist on dessert," he says.

He also says it goes brilliantly with cheese, especially in quesadillas, and you can pair huitlacoche with items you would typically add mushrooms to.