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.

Credit: omgitsjustintime / Instagram

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?

Credit: omgitsjustintime / Instagram

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? 

Credit: omgitsjustintime / Instagram

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. 

Credit: omgitsjustintime / Instagram

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.

Credit: omgitsjustintime / Instagram

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

Or in a gordita. 

Credit: omgitsjustintime / Instagram

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. 

Credit: omgitsjustintime / Instagram

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. 

Notice any needed corrections? Please email us at corrections@wearemitu.com

This Iñupiaq TikToker Has A Thing Or Two To Teach You About Celebrating Indigenous Cultures Online

Fierce

This Iñupiaq TikToker Has A Thing Or Two To Teach You About Celebrating Indigenous Cultures Online

Drew Angerer / Getty

An Indigenous woman from Utqiagvik, Alaska who is part of the Iñupiaq tribe is TikTok’s latest culture sensation.

While the rest of us are stuck indoors and quarantining, Patuk Glenn has been amassing a following on Instagram and teaching her 81,000 followers about the Iñupiaq culture, traditions, and daily routines. From sharing videos about hunting to showing off her culture’s traditional clothing, Glenn’s videos are a reminder that beyond being alive, indigenous cultures around the globe are resilient– even in the face of our world’s constant attempts to change and eliminate them.

Glenn’s trending TikTok videos run the gamut from cooking to wearing her traditional clothing.

In some videos, Glenn shares the recipe for Inuit ice cream (caribou fat, ground caribou meat, and seal meat) or shares what her traditional clothing looks like. In one truly insightful clip, she takes her followers through a traditional ice cellar in her mother’s house. There, Glenn shared with her viewers that she and her family use the permafrost surround the cellar to preserve whale, seal, and caribou.

Given some of the food content, some of Glenn’s videos have received some backlash to which she isn’t batting much of an eye.

In videos where Glenn features food from whales (muktuk, or whale skin) she says that she has become used to receiving not so positive comments on occasion. Speaking to CBC News, Glenn explained that such comments are hurtful at times but mostly only inspire to continue to educate her followers more. “At first I was really upset,” she explained. “From there, with all of the negative backlash, I felt like it was my responsibility to help educate on why our Inuit people in the Arctic are hunters and gatherers.”

Glenn says that negative comments only push her to share more and educate her followers, particularly because she would like her daughter to be able to share her love for her culture one day as well. “We don’t want our kids to feel ashamed of who they are and where they came from. That’s what really hurt me the most.”

Impressively, Glenn says that learning on TikTok has become a two-way street too.

From TikTok, Glenn says that she has been able to learn and educate herself more about other Indigenous cultures as well. Glenn’s growing understanding of these groups and tribes (like Navajo and Cree) are a welcome surprise. Particularly for someone who, like the rest of us, is taught very little about the world’s Indigenous populations. “In the United States, we’re largely left out of the media. There’s no representation of us,” Glenn shared. “It’s 2020, we have a real opportunity in this day and age to be able to educate the world where institutional education has failed, or where mainstream media has failed.”

For Glenn, her fight to teach others more about her culture is vital. “This platform is helping give the power back into Indigenous people’s hands, to speak on behalf of themselves. I think that’s the really cool piece of it.”

Notice any needed corrections? Please email us at corrections@wearemitu.com

This Iconic Mexican Food Won The Twitter Battle To Be Named Latin America’s Best Street Food

Culture

This Iconic Mexican Food Won The Twitter Battle To Be Named Latin America’s Best Street Food

Omgitsjustintime / Instagram

Let’s face it: our community knows how to do street food like no other place on Earth. From the humble Mexican taco to Argentina’s choripan and Peru’s world-famous ceviche, Latin America is a street food lover’s paradise.

So it’s no surprise that Netflix launched an entire show about our comida callejera called Street Food: LatinoAmerica. The series focuses on street food staples from around Latin America and in order to find out which street food reigns supreme, Netflix launched an online campaign to declare a winner.

In an online tournament organized by Netflix to decide the best street food in Latin America, thousands of users voted for Oaxaca’s tlayuda.

If you had to pick your favorite street food, what would it be? Could you even pick just one? Well, that’s exactly what Netflix forced people to do with a new poll to determine the best street food in Latin America, and the competition was tough. But in the end, with 46.6% of the votes, the tlayuda, that giant tortilla served with a seat of beans, tasajo (beef jerky), chorizo, chapulines, and quesillo, won the Street Food Latin America championship.

The contest was part of a promotional campaign coinciding with the July 21 launch of the Netflix series Street Food: Latin America, which takes viewers on a gastronomical tour of six countries, exploring their cultures through traditional dishes.

The tlayuda went up against choripán (Buenos Aires, Argentina), acarajé (Salvador, Brazil), ajiaco (Bogotá, Colombia), ceviche (Lima, Peru), and rellenas de papa (La Paz, Bolivia). Conspicuously missing from the list were tacos, elote, quesadillas, plátanos fritos, pupusas, and so much more.

Several major figures joined in on the campaign to ensure Mexico’s win with the tlayuda.

The competition was heated and not one country was taking any chances. In fact, the Mexican government’s official Twitter weighed in on the contest, urging its citizens to vote in the poll. Also, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico took to Twitter urging his followers to vote for the tlayuda.

Mexico is known to celebrate big wins with big parties, and some nearly expected a crowd of revelers to form at Mexico City’s famed El Angel statue, where many big celebrations are held. Though thanks to social distancing, that didn’t happen this time.

Not everyone was happy with tlayuda taking the top spot – including some very angry Peruvians.

Mexico’s tlayuda beat Peru’s ceviche fair and square: with 46.6% of the vote vs. Peru’s 45.8%. It was a close race to be sure, but the tlayuda won. And it deserved it if you ask me. However, many took to social media to express their outrage at the results.

In fact, Peruvians helped get Amazon Prime to trend on Peruvian Twitter when they decried their followers to cancel their Netflix subscription and instead sign up for Amazon Prime, as a sort of revenge against the network.

For those of you not familiar, what exactly is a tlayuda?

Credit: thatgaygringo / Instagram

Mexico’s famed tlayuda is most popular in the state of Oaxaca, where it’s said to have originated. But you can find it on the streets in any major Mexican city (as well as cities in the U.S. with large Mexican communities) as well as in upscale restaurants giving the dish a twist.

But what makes the tlayuda so special? Chef and culinary historian Rodrigo Llanes told the newspaper El País that the tlayuda is a bridge between pre-Hispanic and European culture, calling it a “magical” culinary creation.

“I do not disqualify the other candidates, but I maintain my preference for the Oaxacan entry for its historical tradition that does justice to native peoples, for its flavor that is emblematic of mestizo cooking, and for its size, which makes it a dish to share,” he said. 

Notice any needed corrections? Please email us at corrections@wearemitu.com