Huitlachoche (Wheat-La-Coach-Ai)

Huitlachoche (Wheat-La-Coach-Ai)

Part of Ep. 1303 Plant Communities

In Madison, Shelley Ryan talks with Troy Community Gardens Manager Claire Strader about a fungus known as Huitlachoche or corn smut. Find out why farmers are deliberately infecting their fields with it.

Premiere date: Oct 05, 2005

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley:
Do you ever find yourself overextended in the garden? Too much work to do and not enough time to do it? It happens to me all the time. Suddenly, my garden is scruffy and I don't have time to take care of it. Welcome to the Wisconsin Gardener I'm Shelley Ryan. Today we travel to Northwind Perennial Farm near Lake Geneva to learn how to design gardens to fit into our busy lives.

Plant pathologist Brian Hudelson will look at the unusual in the plant disease world. For instance, brown spot is bad for green beans but great for skiers. Also we're going to put you on the alert for an insect coming our way. It's not in Wisconsin yet and we want to keep it that way. First up, what do you do if you find this growing on your corn? Destroy it, run away or eat it? We'll find out, coming up on the Wisconsin Gardener.

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Shelley:
This is corn smut, and I think it's awful looking. Now, if I found this in my corn field, I would either run screaming out of there or chop it all down and burn it. But at Troy Gardens in Madison, they're actually growing it on purpose. I'm with the farmer there, Claire Strader. And Claire, why would anybody want to grow this?

Claire Strader:
Because it's delicious.

Shelley:
For people to eat?

Claire:
Yes, and we don't actually call it corn smut.

Shelley:
Oh no? We call it Huitlacoche. It's a Mexican delicacy with great flavor. It's also known as Mexican truffle or corn mushroom.

Shelley:
These are nice names for something that looks like this. Is it good for us, too?

Claire:
It is high in protein and fiber, low in carbohydrates.

Shelley:
Okay, so it tastes good and is good for us. It still looks awful. Is this something that Troy Gardens discovered on their own?

Claire:
No, in fact it's a quite ancient food.

Shelley:
Oh, really?

Claire:
Corn has been growing for a long time. And corn smut, the disease name has been growing on corn for as long as corn has grown. The Aztecs discovered that not only was the corn edible, but also this mushroom that grows on the corn. The Native Americans also grew it here and preserved it to eat throughout the winter. And currently, in the central states and Mexico, they harvest and sell, literally tons of it in their markets every year.

Shelley:
So, how is it used, then?

Claire:
Well, what you would do is take this home and take the kernels off.

Shelley:
And these are the kernels, these bloated things.

Claire:
That's right, it would be a corn kernel a regular corn kernel if it wasn't infected with the fungus. Instead, it's Huitlacoche. Just take it off with your thumb. Roll them off and saute them in a little bit of garlic. And then, you can use them any way that you would use a mushroom. Some traditional dishes are burritos and tacos. I have a CSA member from Mexico who made a Huitlacoche lasagna for me last week, which was quite delicious.

Shelley:
And we have quesadillas in front of us. When it starts to cook, you can see it has more of a mushroom look to it.

Claire:
That's right.

Shelley:
Okay, and you said it occurs naturally. I can do this?

Claire:
No, in fact you can't, but it can occur.

Shelley:
If I find it, I'd be lucky.

Claire:
That's right. Now you know what to do when you find it.

Shelley:
No more screaming, huh?!

Claire:
Still take it away but this time, bring it to your kitchen not your compost pile. We grow it on purpose with an innoculum that we need in order to produce the fungus in the corn. We produce that inoculum at the University. And then, we have to inject it into every single corn ear in the field.

Shelley:
Why?

Claire:
Well, for us it's a cash crop. Troy Gardens is a project on the north side of Madison. It's about 31 acres that were reclaimed from development.

Shelley:
Which is good.

Claire:
It was going to be cookie cutter houses. Instead, there are community gardens there.

Shelley:
Super.

Claire:
There's a prairie restoration and natural woodland areas. And there's also a very small five-acre farm which is the part that I do. And because our acreage is so small, we really needed to look for crops that we could grow that would bring in income to help make us financially stable. And Huitlacoche is a crop that we have tried.

Shelley:
So, it's that valuable as a crop?

Claire:
It's quite valuable. Much more valuable the sweet corn it grows on.

Shelley:
Wow, is this the only way I'm ever going to find it? Would I find it canned?
Claire:
You can find it canned. I would not recommend that you try it that way.

Shelley:
Really?

Claire:
It's a very different product, hardly recognizable. It's quite black and slimy. And you can see this is still recognizable as corn and those whole kernels. It has a much better flavor fresh. The fresh is only available just for a couple months of the year.

Shelley:
Hence why it has such value.

Claire:
That's right, because it is quite perishable and rare. We are also processing it to sell it frozen. And then, that will elongate the availability of it. You can find it fresh in farmers markets in the summer months when corn grows. You should be able to find it frozen in Mexican markets for a little bit longer period after that until it disappears!

Shelley:
Right, because we're all in love with it and eating it.

Claire:
That's right.

Shelley:
So, a Web search could help people find a local place and also give them Huitlacoche recipes.

Claire:
That's right, we have some information about it on our Web site at Troy, as well.

Shelley:
Since it's going to disappear, I'll be the first to find out. It's very good, mushrooms and corn mixed.

Claire:
That's right.

Shelley:
What a great flavor. Thanks, Claire.

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