Huitlacoche, or cuitlacoche, is a unique ingredient of Mexican cuisine. Its English name is “corn smut,” which helps to explain why it has never quite caught on north of the Rio Bravo. (James Beard tried, to little avail, to overcome this by calling it “the Mexican truffle.”) It’s basically a corn disease caused by a fungus that replaces normal corn kernels with something that looks like mushrooms.
Smuts are a class of fungi that are parasitic on flowering plants and form black dusty spore masses that resemble soot or smut. A farmer in the U.S. who spots this on his crop will move heaven and earth to get rid of it. But in Mexico the smoky-flavored huitlacoche — said to signify “raven’s excrement” in Nahuatl — is viewed by many as a delicacy. It is used to flavor quesadillas, tamales, soups, and other dishes.