Culture

This Traditional Mexican Ingredient Is Ending Up On More And More Menus In The US But Do You Know What It Is?

Corn smut, fungus, Mexican truffle — these are just some of the aliases of huitlacoche(pronounced whee-tla-KOH-cheh). But what exactly is this soft, spreadable and dark-as-night ingredient? In simple terms, it’s a plant disease (yes, it’s a parasite) that grows on ears of corn around the kernels in puffy, gray clouds that look kind of like river stones. But when you take this strange fungus into the culinary world, huitlacoche becomes a delicacy used in all sorts of dishes from soups to enchiladas to sauces.

This is an ingredient that Indigenous people have been working with for centuries but as it becomes more common on menus across the US, people are wondering what exactly it is.

Yes, it’s even referred to as the Mexican truffle.

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Because it’s technically a fungus, much like the ultra expensive truffle, many restaurants – especially upscale ones – across the US are truing to market it as a truffle. Sure. Whatever floats your boat. 

So where is this Mexican delicacy from, exactly?

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The name huitlacoche is Nahuatl, which is the language of the Aztecs still spoken by more than a million people in Central Mexico today. Utilizing this ingredient also dates back to this time. Corn, or maize, was a staple in the Aztecs’ diet, and they used the corn fungus mainly in tamales and stews.

The Native American Hopi and Zuni tribes have also worked with huitlacoche from the get-go. The former called the fungus “nanha,” and the latter held the ingredient in such high standing they say it symbolized the “generation of life.” In fact, huitlacoche has been an important food for indigenous peoples of the Southwest for centuries. So much so that the fungus has ceremonial, culinary and medicinal uses. As far as the healthfulness aspect is concerned, huitlacoche offers more protein than regular corn and has high amounts of lysine, an essential amino acid not found in normal kernels.

Nowadays, chefs are popularizing this once lesser known ingredient in restaurants from LA to NYC.  

Credit: Rosa Mexicano / Screenshot

Of course, as they say, an ingredient could be used for thousands of years by a certain culture but once the white folk ‘discover’ it, it’s said to have gone mainstream. Although it’s true that many US-based chefs are cooking with huitlacoche, it’s still predominantly an ingredient you’ll only find in Mexican driven kitchens. 

Ok, where can I get it? 

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Huitlacoche can be bought at most Mexican food specialty stores and comes frozen, jarred or canned. Since you don’t have to strip the corn of the fungus, using huitlacoche in this way proves pretty easy and requires little to no prep. If you do happen upon it fresh, pick the spores when they are light gray in color on the outside and have a spongy texture. Firm samples are overripe and bitter. For a superior earthy-corn taste, go for huitlacoche that forms on the ears, not the stalk. Occasionally, you may find this ideal huitlacoche at a farmers’ market

Now, I’ve got it. What can I do with it?

Since it’s technically a vegetable, you can use it raw. And because it’s a soft fungus, you don’t have to worry about chopping, pureeing or shredding, especially if you get it in a can or frozen. If you do manage to source some fresh huitlacoche, first thank the corn gods, then throw it into dishes whole, or delicately tear it apart with your fingers. Don’t be surprised when the gray fungus turns black with heat — this is a signature characteristic of the ingredient and the reason why many dishes that contain huitlacoche have a dark hue.

At the Rosa Mexicana chain, executive regional chef Joe Quintana says the ingredient goes with so many things, you will have no trouble finding a way to play with it: “Huitlacoche has many uses, and its earthy flavor gives you options to put it into dishes as well as sauces.” At the restaurants, he has paired it with chicken, beef and, surprise, more corn! He also says it goes particularly well with cheese, especially in quesadillas. In a way, you can think of pairing huitlacoche with items that you would normally add mushrooms to, and beyond

Here are some of our favorite uses for this delightfully tasty ingredient. 

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Quesadillas de huitlacoche are a go-to on the streets of Mexico City and the earthy flavor of huitlacoche (which also somehow tastes similar to corn) pairs perfectly with the fried masa and salsas. Remember, in Mexico City quesadillas don’t traditionally come with cheese – you have to ask if you want ‘em cheesy. 

You can also throw huitlacoche on top of a sope.

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Sopes were built to showcase the flavor of its toppings, which make them the perfect vessel for huitlacoche. 

Or in a gordita. 

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Paired with the crisp dough of a gordita, the flavor of the huitlacoche is allowed to shine through and I couldn’t be happier when I eat a huitlacoche gordita. 

They also make an amazing filling for enchiladas. 

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Because of their rich, earthy flavor, enchiladas de huitlacoche are often served bathed in a rich mole sauce. Seriously, one of my favorite go-to dishes. It’s rich and kinda heavy but you don’t regret a thing. Get a super good recipe here. 

Revolutionary Energy Has Reached Chile And The People Are Fighting To Take Their Country Back

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Revolutionary Energy Has Reached Chile And The People Are Fighting To Take Their Country Back

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There is no question that Latin America is in the midst of a revolution. It seems as if there is a battle between extreme-right governments and the people, except the governments have tear gas. Puerto Ricans revolted against their corrupt Gov. Ricardo Rossello, and successfully ousted him from power. Last month, Ecuador’s indigenous communities revolted against Ecuadorian President Moreno’s decision to end fuel subsidies, among other austerity measures, and won. A month ago, indigenous President Evo Morales of Bolivia won the democratic vote only to be victimized by his own military in a coup that landed a white conservative Christian Senator to replace President Morales, now living in asylum in Mexico City. Colombia’s conservative President is a year into his term and is tear-gassing revolters throughout the country, closing the national border and implementing curfews.

Now, the people of Chile are joining the Latin American revolution to end increasing income-inequality.

What seemed like a small 30 peso increase in public transit fares has led to thousands taking to the streets to chant “It’s not 30 pesos, it’s 30 years.”

CREDIT: @ELYGLEZM / TWITTER

Why? Because, like every moment you’ve ever lost your mierda on someone for a microaggression, there is history here, and the United States is more responsible than many might think. Before dictatorship swept the nation, Chile was had democratically elected its first socialist president Salvador Allende in 1973. Allende delivered on his platform to raise the minimum wage, create universal healthcare, free school lunch, and advocated for the indigenous Mapuche children to be integrated into the public school system. Meanwhile, the United States’ CIA has funneled $3 million to finance anti-Allende campaigns and another $2.6 million to finance Eduardo Frei’s campaign — Allende’s rival. When the people continued to elect Allende, the CIA backed the Chilean military to stage a coup. The very last thing Allende told the Chilean people was his vow that he would never resign. The following morning, the military told Chile that Allende killed himself with a gift from Fidel Castro — an AK-47 rifle. Augusto Pinochet appointed himself Chile’s “Supreme Chief of the Nation,” and a dictatorship was born.

Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet may have been ousted 30 years ago, but Chileans feel like its economic progress has been to benefit the ultra-rich and only served to widen the wealth gaps. After the “Chicago Boys” (a group of economists from the University of Chicago) paternalized Pinochet into privatizing nearly everything and creating a free-market designed to benefit the US, the results have left Chile without a middle class. Many of Pinochet’s policies are still in play, and Chileans can feel it.

President Miguel Juan Sebastian Piñera was elected based on a centrist campaign. Now, he’s become another far-right leader in Latin America.

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The “Chicago Boys” would become government officials in Pinochet’s dictatorship, and many of their contemporaries remain officials under Piñera’s administration. Everything is privatized, including water and social security, and it has become increasingly expensive for Chileans to simply buy their medications, pay their rising bills and live their life. Many of us can relate to rising living costs without any increase in wages or salaries. Chile is rising up.

While American media might be highlighting “violent protests” in Chile, the bulk of the violence is directed at the people from Chile’s government.

CREDIT: @JOVINOMAS / TWITTER

Last week, The New York Times reported on how an eye patch has exemplified the rising police brutality on Chileans. It’s become a symbol of protest. According to The New York Times, more than 285 Chileans have suffered severe eye trauma at the hands of Chilean law enforcement during protesters this month. “I felt an impact in my eye, and it all went black. I held up my hands so they would stop shooting and then laid on the ground, and they shot me three more times,” Brandon González, 19, who works as a hospital assistant told The New York Times. “I thought, they are going to kill me.” Even though Chileans know that their health is on the line, they’re still hitting the streets. 

Finally, President Piñera, who has a historic low 12 percent approval rating, admitted that the police were abusing citizens. “There was excessive use of force. Abuses and crimes were committed, and the rights of all were not respected,” the president said in a speech to the nation after reports of 22 deaths and more than 2,000 injuries.

Chile wants a new constitution, written by the people, instead of Pinochet.

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While Piñera has announced that Chile would rewrite its Constitution, it feels like too little too late for many Chileans. They don’t trust government officials to represent the needs of the people, for fear the ultra-rich will influence the foundation of an entirely new government. “If the people want it, we will move toward a new constitution, the first under democracy,” Piñera said. We’ll see.

READ: Mon Laferte Goes Topless At 2019 Latin Grammys To Protest Violence In Chile

Netflix Doc Profiles The Daily Life Of Rarámuri Ultramarathon Runner Lorena Ramirez

Entertainment

Netflix Doc Profiles The Daily Life Of Rarámuri Ultramarathon Runner Lorena Ramirez

Netflix

Netflix has just released a short documentary that gives us an insight into the daily life of famous ultramarathon runner Lorena Ramirez, the indigenous woman who wins races wearing traditional dresses and huaraches. “Lorena, la de pies ligeros,” premiered on Netflix on Nov. 20, and we can’t get enough of it. While we are used to admiring Lorena at the finish line, for the first time ever, we get to meet her family, and see what her life is like at home, deep in the Sierra Madre mountains. Lorena is arguably the most famous member of the Rarámuri, a Mexican indigenous group lauded for their incredible long-distance running abilities. Directed by Juan Carlos Rulfo, the 28-minute documentary is complete with panoramic views of the Sierra Madre mountains, interviews with Lorena and her relatives, and spots of Lorena competing in international races with a delicate song in the background in her own tongue, whispering about the light of fireflies.

For all the lights and photographs a race brings Lorena, her home life is like any other traditional Rarámuri.

CREDIT: NETFLIX

The very word rarámuri means “light-footed,” and the Rarámuri have been calling themselves “light-footed” for centuries. The Rarámuri used to populate nearly all of Chihuahua, but many retreated to the high sierras and canyons once the Spanish invaded Mexico in the 16th century. Many were captured and used as slaves, but the Rarámuri fought back. The Spanish executed many leaders of the Rarámuri, but their resistance proved too much for the Spanish and their Jesuit missionaries, who abandoned their posts. 

Today, Lorena lives with her family in the Sierra Madre, and continues to practice indigenous customs, many of which include a lot of walking. “We’re always walking,” Lorena says. “We walk to La Ciénaga in Norogachi for groceries. It’s like three or four hours walking slowly. I’ve never used public transport to go buy groceries.” All that walking has made her one of the most famous ultramarathoners in the world. An ultramarathon is any race that exceeds 26.2 miles.

Lorena’s father, an ultramarathoner, brought her to her first race.

CREDIT: NETFLIX

According to her father, “One day, we realized our feet were good for running, and that we had this talent for running.” “The first time my father took me to Guachochi was to run a seven-mile race. I never thought I’d be a good runner, or that I’d win,” Lorena tells the documentary crew with a chuckle. “But yes, I won,” she says seriously.

“There’s no need for pressure,” her father says about her wins. “She doesn’t have to win every time. Sometimes it’s hard on the feet. It’s very painful.”

While some indigenous customs have made her an elite athlete, we learn that she’s tired of taking care of the animals.

“It was hard for me to go to school. It was a five-hour walk,” her brother says. “The girls were forced to stay home and take care of the animals.” As much as he wishes Lorena and his sisters could go to school, “it wasn’t possible.” So the family sends the boys to school, and the girls stay home to do domestic work. Now, when Lorena’s father asks her if she likes taking care of the goats, she says she’s usually so tired now, passing on the chore to her little sister, Juana.

Sometimes she runs with shorts, but she wears them under her skirt because, as she puts it, “I wouldn’t be Lorena without the skirt.”

CREDIT: NETFLIX

Winning ultramarathons is a source of income for Lorena and her family. “I always push myself to make the goal,” she says in the documentary. “It’s no game. I say to myself ‘Nearly there. It’s not much longer to the finish line.'” As often as her father says she likes to run for fun, Lorena tells us that she takes the races seriously. 

Running shoes just “don’t feel right” to Lorena.

CREDIT: NETFLIX

Lorena prefers her huaraches, what else can she say? As she opens up boxes of brand new top-of-the-line running shoes, she says with a smile, “I don’t think I’ll use them. The people that wear these shoes are always running behind me.” That said, she admits that her huaraches caused her problems during an ultramarathon that was impacted by flash flooding and cold temperatures. After running through several feet of water to the finish line, she tells us that her huaraches stiffened up in the cold and were bothering her. She still won.

“I’ll keep running for as long as I can, for as long as I have the strength,” Lorena says.

READ: This Mexican Woman Ran A 50 Km Race In Sandals And Beat The Odds