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. 

This Abuelita Has Been Named One Of Mexico’s Most Powerful Women

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This Abuelita Has Been Named One Of Mexico’s Most Powerful Women

Remember Doña Angelita, the adorable Mexican abuelita who became internet famous by sharing her traditional recipes online? Well, she was recently recognized by Forbes magazine as one of the most powerful women in Mexico. And we can’t celebrate this enough! One of the things we love about online cultures when they are at their best is how everyday people who have extraordinary talents can share their uniqueness with the world. 

This amazing woman is now loved and respected by literally millions, as she has provided access to life in rural Mexico. Rural and indigenous Mexicans (and Latin Americans in general) are marginalized when it comes to sharing their lives on social media and becoming mainstream. So this case has helped spread the word on the awesomeness of traditional food and rustic cooking methods. 

She has also helped in the preservation of traditional recipes that can get lost if they are not properly archived: with her YouTube videos, she has made sure that the methods, ingredients and human touch of dishes that have been passed down generations of Mexicans are kept alive in the digital era. And we cannot thank her enough. La queremos mucho, Doña Angelita!

In its annual roundup, Forbes named Doña Angela as one of Mexico’s most influential women and we couldn’t agree more.

Last year, Doña Angela launched a wildly successful YouTube channel – De Mi Rancho a Tu Cocina – that brought rural Mexican cooking to viewers across the world. In just two months, her channel had been viewed more than 7 million times and she quickly gained millions of subscribers.

Now, the world-famous abuelita is being recognized by Forbes magazine as one of the most influential women in Mexico, for her work in bringing Mexican culture to her audience.

“I’m already everyone’s aunt and everyone’s grandmother” said Doña Angela when she shared with her then million followers that YouTube had awarded her two plaques: the silver for having exceeded 100,000 and the gold for exceeding a million subscriptions to her channel.

Doña Angela joins a list of 100 other Mexican women who received the honor this year, including: actress Yalitza Aparicio, the famous chef, Daniela Soto-Innes, and Mexico City Mayor, Claudia Sheinbaum.

Her recognition from Forbes, comes shortly after being recognized by YouTube for her online success.

Credit: De Mi Rancho A Tu Cocina / Facebook

In a photo that Doña Angelita shared in her official Facebook page we can see her holding two plaques with one of her granddaughters. The golden plaque is a real achievement: it states that her YouTube channel has surpassed 1,000,000 subscribers, not an easy feat at all! Just look at her proud smile, the product of many years of perfecting her culinary skills in silence and the pride of finally being able to share it with the help of her family. This is as authentic as it gets. And for those hipsters who love organic…. just look at the beautiful produce she uses in her food. 

Because we can all remember an abuelita that looks like the sweet Doña Angelita.

Credit: De Mi Rancho A Tu Cocina / YouTube

One of the reasons why she has become such a star is that her charisma and tenderness reminds us of our own abuelitas or aunties who spent hours cleaning frijoles while chatting to us. Many of us remember the endless afternoons we spent watching our abuelitas stir a pot. For many Latinos, the first forays into the kitchen had to do with private cooking lessons from those strong, beautiful souls called abuelitas. These private lessons are a treasure that even Chef Gordon Ramsey would envy! 

Fame has also allowed her to fulfil some of her dreams!

Credit: De Mi Rancho A Tu Cocina / Facebook

And of course all this fame has come with some much deserved perks! Our favorite online celebrity was able to take her husband and her family to a beach holiday thanks to the support her YouTube channel has gotten. She had never been to the beach, and the photos she shared on her official Facebook page are beautiful, so joyous. It is things like this that make us believe in humanity again! 

And she gets her viejo to help with the cooking too! Her success is a communal, family effort.

Credit: De Mi Rancho A Tu Cocina / Facebook

Just look at this adorable moment. In her Facebook page, Doña Angelita makes it clear that her success is not a one-woman-show. Her success is also a testament of the support and solidarity that many Latinos find in their immediate family. We also love how her success story counters gender stereotypes. Her story also defies the notion that once you are over 50 your working life, particularly if you are a woman, is over. Her success story also makes us wonder how many people with hidden talents are out there. We hope for many more of these viral personalities to emerge, as they are nice change considering the huge amount of empty and narcissistic messages floating around in the influencer industry.

From Bagging Groceries To YouTube, This Senior Launched His Own Mexican Cooking Channel And He’s Already A Star

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From Bagging Groceries To YouTube, This Senior Launched His Own Mexican Cooking Channel And He’s Already A Star

Tito Charly / YouTube

In Mexico, the Coronavirus pandemic has left hundreds of thousands of people without work. One of the hardest hit populations has been Mexico’s senior citizens. Many seniors worked at supermarkets bagging groceries and relying exclusively on tips for their income. However, supermarkets had no choice but to let them go for their own safety once the pandemic hit.

This has forced many seniors to get creative and that’s exactly what Tito Charly has done. He’s launched his own line of food products and a YouTube channel to go with it, where he cooks some seriously tasty looking recipes with the help of his daughter, Veronica.

A 79-year-old former grocery store bagger lost his job because of Coronavirus – now he’s making videos for YouTube.

Credit: Tito Charly / YouTube

Carlos Elizondo – or has his family calls him, Tito – is nearly 80-years-old, but he’s not letting his age get in between him and his goals. Thanks to the to Coronavirus pandemic, he lost his job as a bagger at a Monterrey supermarket but he’s since turned that bad luck into newfound fame as a YouTube cooking star.

So far, the new YouTuber has more than 6,000 subscribers to his channel, Tito Charly, and he features recipes using some of his very own ingredients that he also markets through his videos. Tito is basically a marketing genius.

Tito says he’s always had to find ways to stay busy.

Tito is a father of three and an abuelo to six. Since losing his wife his daughters moving out to start their own lives, he’s been forced to find news ways to keep himself occupied.

At the suggestion of a friend, he took a job as a grocery bagger at a nearby supermarket chain seven years ago where he worked a four-hour shift, but that ended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

So he decided it was time to start a new career online, which he has done with the assistance of family members. “My wife was a very good cook, my father-in-law as well. I learned more crazy ideas from them than I can think of,” Elizondo says of his culinary creations.

His most recent video shows viewers how to make snacks in celebration of beer’s return to store shelves.

Beer in Mexico has been in short supply ever since the pandemic hit. Mexico’s government shut down all non-essential businesses and in a move that the government now admits was a mistake, beer producers were considered non-essential.

Now that the country is beginning to reopen, beer is once again in production and it’s easier to find on store shelves. So this video idea is beyond timely and perfect.

Grilled cheese with bacon and chorizo, dried meat with piloncillo, and chilaca chiles stuffed with shrimp and chorizo ​​are some of the other recipes that the new YouTuber has posted with the help of his daughter, Verónica.

Tito also markets and sells his own products, which he features in his YouTube videos.

Credit: Tito Charly / YouTube

Aside from filming recipe videos, Tito also markets and sells his own artisanal products. He says in an interview with Mexico’s Reforma, that he spoke with local producers of dried meats, chorizo, and cheeses and that they allowed him to label and distribute them as his own.

“They allowed me to use my own brand. With that we started a month ago, I liked it and here we have been giving it hard. My daughter does me a favor to help me receive and fill the orders,” says Elizondo.

Tito sells the products under his own brand, Tito Charly. Meanwhile, his daughter helps him take and fulfill orders and film his YouTube videos.

Many senior citizens were the first to lose their jobs due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Credit: mexiconewsdaily / Instagram

In Mexico, almost exclusively the workers who bag your groceries are senior citizens who aren’t paid by the store. Instead, they rely entirely on tips, with most earning between $200-250 pesos per day (or about $10-12 USD). However, with seniors being at higher risk of Covid-19 related illness, most markets had to let them all go. This left many scrambling for ways to find new income.

Tito says he misses working at the market and that he had worked there for seven years, but that his time was almost up anyway since you can no longer work there past 80-years-old.

Tito Charly posts a new cooking class every Sunday and says he hopes to reach 10,000 followers soon. “I have always been positive. I like to look ahead,” the newly-minted YouTube star says. “Nothing is impossible, there is always a way.”