A Corn Cob by any Other Name

Ustilago maydis

The Devil’s Corn, Corm Smut, Corn Truffles, and Huitlacoche are a few of the names that will pull up this monster of a corn cob if you Google it.

This my friends is what we found growing in our garden here on the Red Bird Campus. Imagine walking into your beautiful corn patch and finding something like this. The Horror!!!

Research Time

I dashed back to the office and Googled the description. The biologist in me loves the hunt of finding something new. To my disgust and delight I found out that this nastiness that had tainted my beautiful Peaches and Cream corn was considered a delicacy in Latin cooking. It is a fungus called Ustilago maydis which invades the corn kernel. The disease enlarges the corn kernels to 10 times their normal size (they can range in size from that of a dime to that of a 50-cent piece) and turns the kernels first silvery-gray, then black.

The life cycle of corn truffle mushrooms

Different View

The more research I did the more I became intrigued. I found what to look for when hunting the best corn truffles to use for cooking. (Corn Truffles sounds better the Devil’s Corn or Corn Smut when your thinking about eating it. So that’s how I will be referring to it from now on. LOL!) I won’t lie. I tried a kernel of this weird stuff straight from the cob. It was pretty good. The earthiness of a mushroom combined with the sweetness of the corn, not a bad combination at all.

I had found a recipe to try and was all prepared to make it using the corn truffles from our garden. I took a short vacation and was prepared to try this Latin delicacy as soon as I returned. However before I could get back to the garden at Red Bird the corona virus put me in quarantine. UGH!

Covid Brian

So I am only 3 days into quarantine. I am feeling better but I have a serious case of foggy brain. I kind of worried about attempting this blog in my condition.  But here it goes.


I called Pino my co-worker and ask if he could harvest some of the new corn truffles and throw it out in my driveway as he sped past. I wouldn’t want to infect anyone with this curse. To my dismay he informed me that while I was on vacation we had a storm and it blew down all of our corn. So I can’t make a recipe using the corn truffles.

Not an Isolated Case

I recently found out that 2 of my Grow Appalachia members have also found corn truffles in their gardens.

Michael Brock posted this picture on his Facebook profile. I thought it was simply that we had planted in a new garden spot and the fungus had simply been laying dormant until we planted corn there. While doing research I found that the spores can lay in the ground for up to 7 years.

I wonder what has made this something to appear in local gardens? No one around here has ever seen anything like it.

Now What

So do we freak out and say “Ew!” or do we embrace this fungus? Do I use this as a source of income selling crops to local Mexican restaurants? Maybe this is a new income source for my gardeners? Ancient Aztecs used to infect their corn stalks with the spores so that they would develop into corn truffles. Today 1 pound of corn truffles can sell for up to $10. So this may be something we will look into for next year.

Recipe: Huitlacoche  “Corn Truffle” Tacos

Huitlacoche Tacos are very quick and easy to make. You only need to sauté the onion and chopped garlic, add the Huitlacoche and a few Epazote leaves, season with salt, and serve in corn tortillas.


  • 2 Tbsp. vegetable or olive oil
  • 1 lb. Huitlacoche rinsed and cut into bite size pieces.
  • ¼ medium size white onion medium size
  • 2 small garlic cloves.
  • 4 epazote leaves*
  • Salt to taste
  • 8 Corn Tortillas.


  • In a medium frying pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Separately, finely chop the onion and garlic.
  • Add the onion to the pan and lightly sauté for 2 minutes, or until the onion becomes transparent. Add the garlic and continue cooking for one minute.
  • Next, add the Huitlacoche and epazote to the frying pan. As you continue to cook, the Huitlacoche will release a bit of liquid, so stir lightly. Continue sautéing for about 5 more minutes, after which the ingredients will be done. Do not overcook them, otherwise they will become dry.
  • Place a portion of about 2 tablespoons of the sautéed ingredients in each tortilla, and serve the tacos alongside a good raw serrano salsa.


*I had no idea what epazote was turns out it is a herb commonly used in the cuisines and traditional medicines of central and southern Mexico and Guatemala.

Covid-19 Cure?

Since our corn blew down I will never know if I was just one corn truffle taco away from curing my Covid. LOL!

Maybe next year I can do a cooking video featuring corn truffles. When I saw this fungus infested corn growing in my sweet corn, I said well we won’t be using this garden for corn again…but yes. I think I will. So don’t curse your weird corn, make tacos!! Then call me and let me know how good they were.

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