Huitlacoche (Exploring A Niche Market For Corn Smut In Ontario)

Huitlacoche is being developed as a niche food product in Ontario, through a Trent University/Fleming College collaboration. Also known as corn truffle or the corn mushroom this is a traditional delicacy in Mexico and a highly regarded choice food additive for foodies throughout North America. The Saville Lab at Trent University is developing a proprietary process to produce high yields of corn truffle, initially on a small scale, using sweet corn varieties currently cultivated in Ontario.

Background:

Huitlacoche has a savory mushroom flavor with overtures of the corn's sweetness. Used in a variety of recipes for many palates.

Targeted for market farmers, restaurants, and specialty grocery stores.

Huitlacoche is available through limited outlets in the U.S.A. for $20-$40/KG

A good source of protein high in the essential amino acid lysine.

Huitlacoche originated as a food source in Mexico prior to European arrival. It is a mushroom that naturally grows on the ears of growing corn.

In Mexico and the U.S.A. corn truffle is considered a delicacy that can be found in high end markets and restaurants. In Canada this product is extremely rare to find fresh or preserved.

The Saville Lab project to identify fungal strains and corn varieties for use in developing methods of production is funded by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), under The New Directions Research Program.

Over three growing seasons The Saville Lab has developed high yielding reproducible methods of Corn Truffle production under Ontario growing conditions. A goal for next growing season is to involve Ontario market farmers in product production following established standard operating procedures

Corn Truffle will be marketed to restaurants, and specialty grocery stores, and sold at farmers markets.

Fleming College Culinary has developed novel recipes for Corn Truffle highlighting the taste and quality of the product. They have also been instrumental in setting up public tasting events. Corn Truffle has proven to be a dynamic and versatile ingredient that can be used as the main focus of a dish or as an accent. Recipes will be available as marketing material for farmers who become involved in its production.

The project lead Dr. Saville currently heads a research team in fungal genomics at Trent University.

Fleming Culinary Taste Testing Huitlacoche Event #2014

"Growing up on the farm, corn smut grew naturally in our fields but we never thought it was edible, let alone a delicacy," says Chef Steven Benns, a member of the culinary faculty at Fleming College.

The status of corn smut, other-wise known as huitlacoche, as a delicacy was cemented once again at a recent tasting event - the result of a partnership between Trent University and Fleming College. The tasting, held on November 19, featured a menu of four courses featuring the unique food product, which is a combination mushroom corn product. Originating in pre-European Mexico, huitlacoche results when corn truffle fungus grows inside the kernels of corn.

The menu included tamale with an Asian twist, smoked corn soup with paprika oil and pickled huitlacoche, as well as sous vide huitlacoche crusted beef tenderloin, and raspberry mousse cake with the huitlacoche brittle.

"I was a little skeptical in the beginning but was proven wrong after working with this product," recalls Chef Benns. "Corn truffle is a dynamic versatile ingredient that provides an interesting flavor to any recipe. It has been a great partnership between Fleming College and Trent University. I look forward to continuing this collaboration with the Saville Lab."

Dr. Barry Saville, chair of the Forensic Science program at Trent University, is currently heading up a research team in fungal plant pathogen genomics. With funding from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs, the research includes a focus on developing reproducible methods of huitlacoche production, developing a niche market for Ontario farmers, and marketing the food product.

"We strive to introduce this Mexican delicacy to the Ontario market in a manner that gains acceptance. This is why we choose to grow the mushroom on sweet corn. But it is through the interaction with the chefs and students at Fleming College that we have realized how truly adaptable this product is in such a variety of delicious recipes," said Professor Saville.

Chef Mike Sterpin, a member of the culinary faculty at Fleming College, added: "This is year two of my involvement in the huitlacoche project with Trent University. We are truly in a unique position to have developed this relationship. I can't think of another culinary school that can say they have a direct supply of a unique product like huitlacoche."


Fleming Culinary Taste Testing Huitlacoche Event 2013

On September 18 2013, a group of Trent University and Fleming College representatives gathered in Fulford’s Dining Lounge at Sutherland Campus to taste-test a unique food product, huitlacoche. With recipes developed by the Fleming Culinary department, guests dined on a menu that included huitlacoche cornbread, huitlacoche risotto, huitlacoche ravioli and huitlacoche succotash.

Huitlacoche, considered a delicacy, is a combination mushroom corn product. Originating in pre-European Mexico, huitlacoche results when corn truffle fungus grows inside the kernels of corn.

Trent University researcher Barry Saville is currently heading up a research team in fungal plant pathogen genomics. With funding from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs, the research is taking a new direction and that’s where Fleming College has come on board.

The research now includes a focus on developing reproducible methods of huitlacoche production, developing a niche market for Ontario farmers, and marketing the food product. “This research strives to introduce a Mexican delicacy to the Ontario market through the utilization of the fungus found in Ontario and corn varieties grown here. The next steps in the research will be screening further corn varieties to find those best suited for huitlacoche production and collaboration with market gardeners or organic farmers to facilitate their production of huitlacoche for local sales.”

Fleming students, supervised by School of Justice and Business Studies faculty member Tom Phillips, initially partnered with the research team through an applied project in the 2013 winter semester.

According to Phillips, the Fleming students researched the health and nutritional benefits of huitlacoche, the existing producers and distribution channels, potential distribution networks, potential export restrictions, and alternative marketing approaches. The students also looked at the economics of production and the potential for small farm operations to grow huitlacoche.

“In essence, this applied project completed the initial assessment of the commercial potential of the methods being developed in the Saville laboratory, and established the foundation upon which future commercialization efforts could be built,” said Phillips.

Within the Culinary department, faculty members Steve Benns, Mike Sterpin and Steve Moghini have been working on recipe development and preserving methods. A student team consists of Josh Wheeler, Duncan Lindsay, Doug Whyte, Rebecca Duncan, Philip Young, Louis Carpan, Michael Byrne, Craig Sidoruk, Lucas Herron, and Damian Dunford.

The students are participating in the project for one of their optional modules for the Hospitality Operations class, said Benns.

For the taste-test, Fleming’s Culinary department hosted a small lunch as well as the dinner event. All who attended took home a jar of honey pickled huitlacoche. The Culinary team has also sent a dehydrated product to the Trent labs for further testing.

“We will be working to develop more recipes for the consumer market and continue to work on preserving methods to extend the shelf-life of the product,” said Benns.

Benns added that the Culinary team will be working on future tastings that look at the different varieties of corn huitlacoche is grown on, and the team will be studying the best time to harvest the product as it is much sweeter the younger it is picked.

Jim Drennan, Dean of the School of Justice and Business Studies, said this is one of a number of partnerships Fleming is working on with Trent. However, the huitlacoche research presents distinctive opportunities.

“This is a unique and varied partnership that has led to a combined learning experience -in research by Dr. Saville and in culinary preparation by our faculty here at Fleming,” said Drennan.

Here is the full menu from the tasting, created by Fleming’s Culinary team:

  • Huitlacoche cornbread with a chili citrus butter
  • Huitlacoche risotto with red onion marmalade
  • Huitlacoche ravioli with crispy prosciutto
  • Huitlacoche crusted veal loin with a Huitlacoche succotash
  • Huitlacoche and gruyere strudel with arugula salad tossed in a Huitlacoche vinaigrette and honey pickled Huitlacoche

 

La Hacienda Taste testing Huitlacoche Event 2012

On Aug 28 2012, a group of Trent University and community representatives gathered at La Hacienda Restaurant. This was to celebrate the summer’s harvest of Huitlacoche and the first taste testing for this new Ontario product.

The chef at the La Hacienda prepared the Huitlacoche in a traditional Mexican manner. The delicasy was sauteed with shallots and butter then used as a topping for open faced casadias. La Hacienda is a little corner of Mexico in the Peterborough community. The menu offers many culturally important and delicious food options. It was a great event that showcased this new Ontario product to the Peterborough community.

  • Huitlacoche production provides multiple benefits to a large number of Ontario industries
  • Huitlacoche is considered a delicacy in many countries
  • Tastes like a sweet corn like mushroom
  • Untapped niche market in Ontario
  • New high value niche market for small farm/organic farmers.
  • New products for the seed industry (high huitlacoche producing seed
  • US restaurants pay as much as $30 to $40 per kg for frozen huitlacoche produced by specialty growers
  • Is a staple dietary component in many parts of the world
  • Nutritional analysis revealed huitlacoche has increased health benefits relative to corn as it is a good source of protein and dietary fiber.
  • Great potential to export product to U.S. Asian, and European markets