“This is huitlacoche, it is the bluish-black fungus of corn.” With these words, Dabiz Muñoz began to unleash chaos in a controversial video recently uploaded on your instagram profile. In it, the famous culinary juggler recounted his experience tasting a awful looking product and certainly unknown to the public mainstream. At least outside of Mexico, because it turns out that within the spicy-loving country, this product is highly appreciated.
We are talking about the huitlacoche, a product obtained from the contamination of the fungus Ustilago maydis in the corn. Curiously, this fungus is considered a plague in almost all the countries of the world with the exception of Mexico.
In that region their countrymen they taste it with great skill from time immemorial. It is also said that this product served as food for the indigenous people of yesteryear in long periods of famine.
fungus contamination Ustilago maydis
Nowadays, it is not uncommon to find huitlacoche in Mexican food restaurants all over the globe, forming part of the filling of epic Mexican preparations such as quesadillas or tacos. In addition, in recent years huitlacoche has also become a quality ingredient for the most renowned chefs, being an essential element in the highest cuisine. Dabiz Muñoz has not been able to resist her fungal charms.
Whether you knew the huitlacoche or not, the truth is that it is undeniable that its appearance is extremely abominable. It doesn’t exactly enter through the eyes, since Ustilago maydis It is responsible for penetrating to the bottom of the cereal, causing its deformation through the sudden appearance of swollen galls or tumors where there were previously corn grains. Therefore, for conventional corn producers, the presence of this pest is a real annoyance, since it can contaminate the entire harvest in the blink of an eye, spoiling it. In the agricultural environment this pest is known by the names of “corn smut”, “common smut” or “blight disease”.
Is it dangerous for health to eat corn contaminated by fungus?
The million dollar question is, of course, whether this grotesque-looking product is edible. Can we really eat a product contaminated by fungi such as huitlacoche without there being a danger to our health? The quick answer is no problem, but there are nuances to this. First, Ustilago maydis it is not a mycotoxin-producing fungus. This means that does not generate dangerous toxins for health as other mushrooms do. Specifically, the species of fungi involved in the generation of mycotoxins are molds, microscopic fungi that fall within the division Ascomycota. Here we already find a clear separation, since Ustilago maydis —the aforementioned corn fungus by Dabiz Muñoz— is not a mold, but falls within the division Basidiomycotawell differentiated within the kingdom fungi that gives shelter to all these species of fungi.
However, the fact that it is a “sick” corn can more easily lead to the presence of other molds that are pathogens and mycotoxin producers. And here is the problem. These mycotoxins are not turkey mucus, since their intake is related to damage to the liver, kidneys and the appearance of different types of cancer. In addition, once mycotoxins are generated, it is very difficult to eliminate them since they resist high temperatures. come on what the heat of your pan doesn’t exactly scare them.
In this way, prevention is always advocated in the food industry: that is, preventing mycotoxins from appearing in worrying quantities. This is usually done in foods that are susceptible to generating mycotoxins, such as spices, nuts, grains and seeds. That is, dry foods that can harbor some moisture during storage, an ideal environment where molds feel at home. In this sense, corn is an ideal food to harbor the proliferation of mycotoxin-producing molds. That is why we must watch it closely.
Though Ustilago maydis it is not a dangerous fungus, yes, others that are can appear in the corn. Much more if we talk about a food that, technically, is in a state of advanced deterioration. In this sense, various agricultural science research They advocate preserving the huitlacoche at refrigeration temperatures around 3ºC and with a high relative humidity, above 95%.
Don’t eat things raw, Dabiz Muñoz
So, Dabiz Muñoz didn’t mess it up? Although the huitlacoche was saved from burning, the truth is that Dabiz Muñoz’s consumption recommendations left much to be desired. The cook ate huitlacoche raw, uncooked, directly from the cob. With all the information on pathogens that we have just discussed, you can get an idea of how risky this idea is. A real irresponsibility taking into account that it is a food professional, at least in the culinary field. In general, recommending raw food consumption out of hand is dangerous. There are of course exceptions—such as fish used to make sushi—but even these must meet some minimum preparation requirements.
The problem is no longer just fungi or mycotoxins, but food grown in the soil is susceptible to harboring other pathogens such as Escherichia coli either Salmonella for example, among many others. Trust me, you don’t want them on your plate. Eating direct food from mother earth is not a good idea, not even Chayanne would.
In conclusion, despite the disgust that this contaminated corn can cause, the truth is that huitlacoche is perfectly edible. In fact, surely you have tried it in more than one Mexican restaurant. Let us remember that some cheeses such as Roquefort or Camembert already use non-pathogenic fungi in their production processes, so we should not be scared. However, this does not mean that Dabiz Muñoz’s food safety recommendations are conspicuous by their absence.
If you consume huitlacoche, make sure to cook it before. And be very careful about consuming it in street stalls where we have no guarantees of food hygiene —this recommendation is valid for any food. Lastly, let’s not judge a corn by its appearance. It’s ugly. Although, well, uglier is the corn. Sometimes we get surprises, but do not forget that the huitlacoche is an exception that confirms the rule: do not put poached food or food with obvious signs of deterioration in your mouth.