A thousand years ago, a desperate (or daring) Aztec ate a bulbous, grayish tumor sprouting on an ear of corn -- and a taste for huitlacoche (hweet-la-CO-cheh) was born.
Huitlacoche, called "corn smut" by exasperated North American farmers, and "Mexican truffles" by clever entrepreneurs, is a fungus that infects and explodes corn kernels. The effects can be dramatic, a fist-sized growth wrinkled like a human brain. Like its botanical cousins, the mushroom and the truffle, it's deemed a delicacy by some. Chic chefs and Mexican villagers alike savor its earthy, smoky taste and pleasingly pungent aroma. Huitlacoche may be mildly sweet, depending on the variety of corn it grows on.
Right now, only a handful of small farmers in the U.S. grow huitlacoche, mostly for the kitchens of trendy restaurants. There's actually a ban on the import of the fresh fungus, with or without its host. Also, this ugly organism is deceptively fragile; you'd almost have to be waiting on the other side of customs to get it home before it loses quality. The average stateside consumer has to settle for huitlacoche either canned or flash-frozen.
If the first four foods have primed your taste buds for unusual edibles, then our final entry will make your mouth water in anticipation. If not, it will drop open in disbelief.