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A Fun Guide To Mushrooms

Have you been in the dark when it comes to edible mushrooms? With this infosheet, we aim to bring a little enlightenment on the subject of edible funghi, their origins, the nutritional benefits and their medicinal properties, which contributed to their addition to our diet in the first place.

Mushrooms, a ‘potted’ history

What is a mushroom? Well according to Merriam Webster it's

A: an enlarged complex above ground fleshy fruiting body of a fungus (as a basidiomycete) that consists typically of a stem bearing a pileus; especially: one that is edible

The consumption of mushrooms is called mycophagy and edible mushrooms have been on the menu from as early as several hundred years BC in China, and are associated with far more ancient civilisations. They were also on the dining tables of the Greeks and Roman upper classes. Mushrooms are easily preserved and a good source of nutrition particularly during winter in times when food preservation might have been difficult.

Today there are around twenty commercially cultivated mushrooms and the largest cultivating nations are China, France, the Netherlands and Poland. Listed below are some of the most commonly cultivated varieties:

Agaricus bisporus, also known as Champignon and the Button mushroom. This species also includes the Agaricus, Chestnut, Cremini, Horse, Portobello, White mushroom varieties

Auricularia polytricha or Auricularia auricula-judae (Tree ear fungus), two closely related species of jelly fungi that are commonly used in Chinese cuisine.

Flammulina velutipes, the ‘winter mushroom’, also known as Enokitake in Japan

Hypsizygus tessulatus (also Hypsizygus marmoreus), called Shimeji in Japanese, it is a common variety of mushroom available in most markets in Japan. Known as ‘Beech mushroom’ in Europe.

Lentinus edodes, also known as Shiitake, or Oak mushroom. Lentinus edodes is largely produced in Japan, China and South Korea. Lentinus edodes accounts for 10% of world production of cultivated mushrooms. Common in Japan, China, Australia and North America.

Pleurotus species, The Oyster mushroom and King trumpet mushroom. Pleurotus mushrooms are the second most important mushrooms in production in the world, 25% of total world production of cultivated mushrooms. Pleurotus mushrooms are worldwide, China is the major producer. Several species can be grown on carbonaceous matter such as straw or newspaper. In the wild they are usually found growing on wood.

Pleurotus cornucopiae(Branching Oyster)

Pleurotus eryngii (King Trumpet Oyster)

Pleurotus ostreatus (Oyster mushroom generic)

Rhizopus oligosporus - the fungal starter culture used in the production of Tempeh. In tempeh, the mycelia of R. oligosporus are consumed. (Find Tempeh here in the webshop.)

Sparassis crispa – also known as the Cauliflower mushroom. Recent developments have led to this being cultivated in California.

Tremella fuciformis (Snow fungus), another type of jelly fungus that is commonly used in Chinese cuisine.

Tuber species, (the Truffle), Truffles belong to the ascomycete grouping of fungi. The truffle fruit bodies develop underground in mycorrhizal association with certain trees e.g. oak, poplar, beech, and hazel. Being difficult to find, trained pigs or dogs are often used to sniff them out for easy harvesting.

Tuber aestivum (Summer or St. Jean truffle)

Tuber magnatum (Piemont white truffle)

Tuber melanosporum (Périgord truffle)

T.melanosporum x T.magnatum (Khanaqa truffle)

Terfezia sp. (Desert truffle)

Ustilago maydis (Corn smut), a fungal pathogen of the maize plants. Also called the Mexican truffle, although not a true truffle.

Volvariella volvacea (the Paddy straw mushroom). Volvariella mushrooms account for 16% of total production of cultivated mushrooms in the world.

Mushrooms, the nutritional and health benefits

Mushrooms are often an ingredient in our cooking for their texture and flavour, the flesh surviving most cooking methods well and depending on the variety, either imparting its unique earthy flavour to your dish, or in a sponge like way, absorbing the other flavours in your preparation.

However, Mushrooms aren’t just a tasty addition to your recipe, they come with many nutritional and health benefits:

Mushrooms are the only vegetable to contain Vitamin D in an edible form. Vitamin D helps to boost your immune system and is important to good bone health. Mushrooms also contain ergothiogene which is a powerful antioxidant which again helps to boost your immune system as well as giving protection against the free radicals responsible for cell damage.

Eating mushrooms can help in lowering your cholesterol levels and give you what are known as lean proteins which actually help your body to burn cholesterol during the digestion process.

Notably, mushrooms are effective in the prevention of breast and prostate cancer because of the presence of Beta-Glucans and Conjugated Linoleic Acid, which both have anti-carcinogenic effects on your body. In addition, Linoleic Acid is especially beneficial in reducing the effects of oestrogen on the body, the female hormone primarily responsible for breast cancer in post-menopausal women. The beta glucans can help to arrest the development of cancerous cells in your prostate. To top it all off, mushrooms are a good source of selenium which is also a very effective anti-cancer agent

Diabetics can benefit from the inclusion of mushrooms in their diet as they contain no fats or cholesterol and are low in carbohydrates. Mushrooms are also a source of naturally occurring insulin and the enzymes that help to break down the sugars and starch in your diet.

Mushrooms also contain natural antibiotics that can help your body to fight infections.

A few facts about edible mushrooms and fungi:

A chemical compound extracted from shiitake mushrooms has been approved as an anticancer drug in Japan after it was proven to repress cancer cells in laboratory studies.

The most sought after variety of edible fungi is of course the truffle, and black truffles have been known to reach prices of over $350 per pound, perhaps a little steep for a weekday risotto for one!

Truffle hunting is referenced in Papal documents as early as the 15th Century. Pigs are used traditionally to seek them out, though some dog breeds are also known to have the truffle finding talent but the Lagotto Romagnolo is the only breed actually recognised for its ability. Dogs are preferred to Pigs, as Pigs will actually eat the truffle if the handler is not quick enough to retrieve it.

The largest puffball ever found was close to 4 feet across and close to 50lbs in weight

So, to recap (not red cap), if there’s not mushroom for anything else on your plate, make some space for a little edible fungi, a very beneficial delicacy.

Find fresh mushrooms here in our fruit and veg webshop, mushroom powders and supplements can be found in our superfood shop. Dried Mushrooms can be found here.

N.B. If you intend to go foraging for edible mushrooms for yourself, be sure that you know your edibles from your inedibles. Many of the highly poisonous and inedible varieties have a very similar appearance to the safe and edible varieties, so take care!