Nahuatl term for Ustilago maydis, a soil-borne fungus that grows primarily in sweet corn in damp weather; infected kernels grow large and oddly shaped, turning pearly grey or black as they fill with spores.

In the U.S., if farmers get this corn smut, they destroy the crop or feed it to pigs. In Mexico, it's a delicacy and farmers will get a premium price for their crop. Aztecs boiled or toasted this mushroom, and the Maya would boil, roast, or cook their huitlacoche in tamales. You might find it fresh in Mexico, or in Mexican nouvelle cuisine restaurants in Florida. In the U.S. it is sold in cans in Mexican markets. If you're interested in cooking with it, a quick search on Google will turn up a variety of recipes.

Black Shit

I have a confession to make. I have grown rather fond of eating shit. Black shit to be precise. Down here on the Mexican border the stores sell something called cuitlacoche which is a form of corn. Always ready to try something new, I bought a can of this last week and was quite surprised by what I found. Rather than looking like corn in any way, this stuff looks vaguely like some sort of greasy button mushroom cap dipped in tar. If you eat it with your eyes shut it's actually rather tasty. And I do recommend eating it with your eyes shut, unless you're the sort of person who delights in challenging foods. (I finished my cabeza, but I have to say those goats eyes looking up at me out of the skeletal head did give me a few seconds of queasiness. I had to eat them just to stop them staring at me...)

Cuitlacoche, it transpires, is something that Norteamericano farmers fear. It's a fungus that takes corn and swells it up like popcorn without the fake butter. When it happens to a crop in the cornbelt they generally trash the whole crop. When it happens in Mexico they dance with delight and sell it at double the price as cuitlacoche (not unlike the Germans when a grape field is stricken with edel faule (or noble rot), giving them a fine harvest of the more profitable Trockenbeerenauslese wine.)

In recent years cuitlacoche has been rediscovered by the Californian nouvelle cuisine types as an exotic imported delicacy.

I just wonder if they'd treat it with such reverence if they knew the translation of its name. Yes, you guessed it: black shit.

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