Ustilago maydis

Corn Smut, Huitlacoche

Order Ustilaginales, Family Ustilaginaciae

Corn Smut

NO CAP, GILLS, or STALKCorn smut

 Corn Smut, a plant pathogen and a disease of corn, causes a grayish, bulbous, fungal growth chiefly replacing the kernels on corn ears. Corn smut is an infection of organic corn commonly grown in urban gardens or farms. Pesticide-treated corn is usually not infected.


 Thick-walled diploid telio spores drop to the ground where they germinate into basidiospores, the corn’s infectious agent.




 You’ll love finding corn smut, in Spanish, Huitlacoche (Wheat-lah-coach-aye), on ears of corn in a farmers’ market or identifying it in your neighbor’s corn patch. It looks so gross that people will scream when you show it to them and tell them your plan to mix it in your scrambled eggs or enchiladas.

 Once you find it in a corn patch, corn smut seems to return year after year in the same location, perhaps because the fungus stays in the ground. So we’ve had the pleasure of returning to our friend’s garden for a couple years in a row, after she called begging for us to get rid of it for her.

 Try asking the corn venders at your farmers’ market to bring you their smut. Many throw it out, though lately a serious market is developing for it in upscale restaurants.

 The best part about corn smut, beyond the name, is the deep black color. You don’t eat black food very often. The flavor is so mild, you’ll want to mix it with rice, eggs, possibly potatoes or something that won’t overpower the earthy taste. Whatever you do, show off the color.

 We tried a handful of different brands of canned Huitlacoche, All were a mixture of onions and fungus, not bad at all, but was it worth the hours required to drive around to local Mexican markets, determine that the product wasn’t on the shelf, and then to order canned Huitlacoche online, through Actually, it was worth it, because it’s one of those gastronomic experiences you always remember, plus a visit to any ethnic market is fun. So, we recommend you go for it. You’ll have an easier time finding Huitlacoche, as it becomes more popular here in the U.S. It’s long been regarded as a delicacy in parts of Mexico.


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