Rajan is a botany and chemistry major. He has worked as a poultry breeder for 23 years, breeding layer and broiler parents.
Mushrooms are classified as fungi, despite the fact that many people think of them as vegetables. They have been used as food since the times of the caveman when they were collected from the wild. Today, there are thousands of varieties of them, in various colors and flavors, both common and exotic varieties.
The exotic edible varieties include chanterelle, enoki, and shiitake. These are the most sought-after and consequently the most expensive.
Mushrooms grow in the wild even today, but be very careful while selecting them to eat, as many of these are poisonous.
The most commonly cultivated is the white button mushroom, Agaricus bisporus. However, mushroom broadly refers to a number of fungi that bear a fruiting body containing spores and which grows above the ground.
They may grow on the soil or on another food source. They usually have a stem, a cap, and gills on the underside of the cap. However, mushrooms may also grow without the stem and in such cases may be called differently. China is the largest producer of edible mushrooms, accounting for over 50% of the world's edible mushroom production.
Generally, mushrooms are:
- Low in sodium, fat and calories, just about 20 calories in a cup.
- High in fibre and protein; 20-30% protein by dry weight.
- Rich in the minerals potassium, selenium, copper, zinc and magnesium; the oyster mushroom is rich in iron too.
- Rich in the B-complex vitamins, riboflavin, niacin and pantothenic acid.
- The only vegetable or fruit for that matter that produces vitamin D when in sunlight and is a source of natural Vitamin D.
- Rich in L-ergothioneine, a powerful antioxidant.
- Rich in cancer-fighting nutrients like polysaccharides and linoleic acid.
- Free of cholesterol.
- Contain triterpenes, which inhibit histamine release and are anti-inflammatory.
Nutrients in Mushrooms
28.0 (117 kJ)
Total Omega-3 fatty acids
Total Omega-6 fatty acids
Vitamin E (Alpha Tocopherol)
There are more than 10,000 known types of mushrooms. They can broadly be classified into four categories:
- Saprophytic: These feed on decaying matter like wood, plants and even animals. This category includes many gourmet and medicinal varieties of mushrooms like the oyster, shiitake, cremini etc.
- Mycorrhizal: This category of mushrooms enters a symbiotic relationship with the host plant which gets phosphorus and other nutrients from the mushroom plant while the fungus gets sugar from the host. Most of the fungi of this category occur naturally in nature like chanterelles, truffles etc.
- Parasitic: This category of mushrooms also needs a host but the relation is one-sided with the fungus infecting the host and drawing all nutrients from it and eventually killing it. Eg Caterpillar fungus, Honey fungus etc.
- Endophytic: This category of mushrooms invade the host tissues but the host remains healthy and even benefits by increased nutrient absorption and resistance to disease. This category can be cultivated in the laboratory even without the host.
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Common Edible Mushrooms
- White or Button (Agaricus bisporus): A creamy white to pale tan colour, these mushrooms have a firm texture and delicate flavour. They are juicy, tasty and inexpensive. They can be grilled or mixed with other mushrooms, can also be stuffed and baked.
- Chanterelle (Cantharellus cibaris, C. formosus, etc): A medium textured mushroom with a fruity aroma. It roasts or saute's well. It can also be stuffed in pecans and apricots. The colour ranges from pale white to yellow to orange and brown to black. It has wrinkles on the underside instead of gills.
- Oyster (Pleurotus ostreatus): It has a velvet-like texture and is trumpet-shaped with colours ranging from grey to pale brown to reddish caps on grey white stems. It has a mild seafood taste. It can be sauteed quickly or used in stews too as it can hold texture even in prolonged cooking. It tastes better with butter rather than olive oil but be careful to use just a little bit.
- Portobello (Agaricus bisporus): It has a big, large, umbrella-like cap. The texture and taste are steak-like yet buttery soft. It can replace meat and is often used as a veg burger substitute. The stem is woody and needs to be removed before eating. It can be stuffed with herbs, salt and pepper and can be roasted or grilled.
- Shiitake (Lentinula edodes): The colour of its cap ranges from tan to dark brown. It has an earthy, smoky flavour and tastes best when cooked. It is low in water content and is available both fresh or dried. It can be stir-fried without loss of flavour. The stem is tough and needs to be removed before cooking. It can be used to flavour stocks and sauces. It can accompany anything from seafood to vegetables to red meat. It can be roasted and added to any other foods.
- Cremini (Agaricus bisporus): This is actually the immature portobello, resembling the white mushroom but with a firmer texture and deeper flavour. The cap can be from a pale tan to rich brown colour. The stem can be eaten as it has not yet become woody.
- Enokitake (Flammulina velutipes): A mild-flavoured, crunchy textured mushroom with a fruity taste. It can be used raw with lemon and sea salt. It can also be added straight to soups or stir-fries to add crunch.
- Porcini (Boletus edulis): It has a rich woody flavour, the cap can be roasted like the portobello or it can be diced and cooked. It can be also added raw to a salad. It can also accompany any type of food.
- Morel (Morchella angusticeps, M. esculenta, etc): It is considered a delicacy. It has a deep and clean flavour. It can be toxic if eaten raw and should, therefore, be cooked. It can be cooked with non-fat cream sauces and tastes best with just a little amount of butter rather than olive oil.
- Black Truffles (Tuber melanosporum, T magnatum, etc): It has a sweet, musky and pungent flavour. It can be shaved and added to sauces or eggs; use a little as the flavour is strong. And it IS expensive. Added under the skin of the chicken before roasting will impart a different taste and flavour to the chicken.
Common Types of Edible Mushrooms
How to Get the Maximum Benefits
- Eat organically grown or grow your own to be sure they do not have poisons or toxins. that they could have absorbed from the environment.
- Since they are 70-90% water they can fill one up. Ensure that you eat a larger quantity to derive their full health benefits.
- Try to eat a variety of mushrooms to get various nutrients as different species have different levels of nutrients.
- Be sure to cook them as this makes the nutrients more readily available by breaking the chitinous cell walls. Cooking also neutralizes small levels of toxins. Don't eat them raw.
- Always try out a small quantity if it is the first time you are consuming it to make sure it agrees with you.
- Mushrooms grow from spores and not seeds.
- A mature mushroom can disperse as many as 16 billion spores.
- Some mushrooms can make one high due to their psilocybin content. Psilocybin is related to LSD. These mushrooms are called "shrooms" and possession of either fresh or dried form of this mushroom is illegal in the U.S.
- Much of the flavour of the mushroom lies in the skin. Do not peel it off.
How to Choose the Best Mushrooms
- Choose only plump and smooth looking mushrooms.
- The surface of the mushrooms should be dry but not dried out.
- Fresh and younger mushrooms have tighter gills and a milder flavour.
- For a deeper flavour, choose mushrooms with open gills.
- Always choose mushrooms grown organically or have been grown in a non-toxic environment. The danger of consuming mushrooms grown in a poor environment is that pesticides or mercury are easily absorbed by them from the environment. Therefore never eat mushrooms from such areas.
- Mushrooms stay fresh for up to a week if they are refrigerated.
- Whole mushrooms last longer than sliced ones.
- Remove the plastic covering and wrap in a paper bag before storing in the fridge.
- Do not freeze.
- Brush off the dust or clean with a damp paper towel.
- If they are very dirty, rinse them quickly in cold water and pat dry. Do not soak them in water as they absorb water.
- Trim away the bottom of the stems or chip off the tough stem and then slice them.
- Cook slowly for better taste and flavour.
Non-Food Uses of Mushrooms
- Mushrooms can be used for dyeing natural fibres like wool etc. In ancient times mushrooms were the source of textile dyes.
- Some fungi called tinder fungi are used as fire starters.
- Mushrooms have been used medicinally since olden times in traditional medicine. Reishi mushroom is highly prized in Chinese medicine.
- Some mushrooms are poisonous and can make one sick or even cause death. It is always better to make sure that they are not poisonous before they are cooked. This is especially true for wild mushrooms.
- Mushroom allergies have been reported, so you should be aware of this fact. Before eating a new variety for the first time, try a small quantity to make sure it agrees with you.
- Avoid alcohol with mushroom consumption as some varieties react badly with alcohol if they are consumed in excess.
- If you have gout, avoid eating mushrooms.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2013 Rajan Singh Jolly