I have been asked to do this one a couple of times and it took quite a while to find it. Cuitlacoche, aka corn smut, aka corn mushrooms, aka raven droppings is a delicacy in some parts of the world and a blight in the rest of it. Technically it is a blight, a fungus that grows on corn, replacing the ovaries with giant tumors. Sounds exciting doesn’t it?
The picture on the can was not totally reassuring, the coloring of the taco is not appealing. Opening the can did not help me get over my visual stumbling block.
The smell on the other hand was very enticing. Slightly spicy with hints of cinnamon and chilies and a smooth earthy undertone. I kept going back in to smell it, expecting to eventually find something disturbing lurking under the generally pleasant smell. No dice, the scent was genuinely appealing. The color contrast of the inky black “something” and the yellow corn kernel was reminiscent of things I would much rather not eat. Raven droppings indeed. I wanted to get some light on the subject so I poured some off into a bowl to see what it was made of.
Even spreading it out didn’t lighten up the inky blackness of this stuff. What had I gotten myself in to? I tried to dissect things a bit more, the only recognizable things I could find were big chunks of bay leaves and actual corn kernels. A little more digging got me to what I was after.
On the left is a cuitlacohe infected kernel and on the right is your standard corn kernel. The diseased specimen was very soft and mushy. It felt like a partially burst, overripe grape. And the size contrast is really startling. OK no more delaying the inevitable, it was time to taste. I took a spoonful making sure to get at least one spongy, puffy blob of infected corn. I have to say I was shocked at the tatste, it was delicious. Mild spiciness with hints of cinnamon and cumin, the contrast in textures between the infected kernels and the regular kernels was perfectly balanced and the earthy undertones tied the whole thing together. The only complaint I had at all was the big chunks of bay leaf were not very good to eat. They never are though. I ate several more spoonfuls right away in order to figure out the complex and wonderful flavors. This stuff is good.
I was with a crowd of people for this tasting and based on my reaction I got several others to try it. The results were all positive. I don’t think anyone enjoyed it as much as I did, though I think I may have been so predisposed to not like it, that I may have enjoyed it more than I should have. I doubt I will be keeping it around the house all the time. I can’t see eating a whole can, but if I see it on a menu someplace, or as an option to add to a dish I won’t hesitate at all to add it to my food.
I would give Cuitlacoche a resounding “try it”.