South Carolina farmer Nat Bradford told National Public Radio he almost cried last summer when he discovered all of his nearly 1,400 corn plants were abruptly infected by what’s known in America as “corn smut.”
The fungus grows in the kernels of corn, causing them to become grayish and bulbous, and has long left the ears almost “completely unsellable” in the U.S., NPR reported in a Thursday story.
The University of Maine Cooperative Extension reported that this month is typically when corn smut is most often discovered in this state.
“This fungus disease is easily recognized by the large galls which form in the ears, tassels, and on leaves,” the 2012 post reads, in part. “The young galls are silvery-white in color. When the galls mature they rupture into masses of powdery, black spores.”
The cooperative extension goes on to report there’s “no effective fungicide for corn smut.”
So is all lost for farmers who discover their corn has become infected?
Apparently not. As Bradford discovered in the NPR story above, a market opened up to him when his corn became grotesquely discolored and awkwardly shaped.
The parasitic kernel fungus has long been a delicacy south of the border in Mexico, where it’s known as “huitlacoche.”
Lesley Tellez, an American food writer who offered culinary tours of Mexico City, told McClatchy reporter Tim Johnson the huitlacoche tastes like “mushrooms on steroids.”
Not only can the corn smut — known by the more appetizing name of “Mexican truffle” in an increasing number of trendy restaurants that serve it — be tasty, it’s also nutritious.
Unlike regular corn, the infected corn is reportedly a strong source of lysine, an infection-fighting essential amino acid the human body requires, but doesn’t produce itself. Mexican truffle is also a good source of cholesterol-cutting fiber and protein, making it a food particularly well-suited for body builders and workout fiends.