Eat Some Mushrooms!
One of my favorite ingredients in a well-rounded, low-carb, plant based diet are mushrooms. With this wet spring, mushroom cultivators and wild crafters are having a bumper year. I have seen a bounty of fresh mushrooms at the farmers markets around Chicago.
To over explain it, when I say mushroom I am referring to the fruiting bodies of a polyphore fungi, which exist mostly as an underground (or through organic material) mesh of fibrous cells called mycelium. The fruiting bodies are the apparatus by which the fungi spreads its spoors for reproduction. But the fungi put a lot of energy into making their fruiting bodies, so many of them are fine food.
Historically mushrooms are an important part of a human diet, bringing several hard to find nutrients and flavors to our palettes, but are not in every culture uses them. There are many species of fungi, producing a wide range of fruiting bodies that could be food, medicine or poison, and species vary geographically. So, depending on the local fungi and local traditions, a culture either loves or fears mushrooms. In the modern world it is perfectly safe to love mushrooms without fear.
I say without fear, but unless you know what you are doing, don’t go picking mushrooms from the wild. Only some are edible, 10% are toxic and there are dozens of species that are fatal. Plus, they bio-concentrate any toxins around them. Buy them from a market or trusted harvester.
We have a growing availability to buy mushrooms at the market, each species bringing its individual flavors and medicinal benefits. Euro-American cuisine traditions favor a few species that have taken well to cultivation. By far the most popular species in the US is Agaracus bisporus, aka the Button mushroom, sold as the Crimini when the fruiting bodies are immature, and as the Portobello when the fruiting body is all grown up. Versatile, flavorful and easy to grow, other species include the chanterelle (Cantharellus sp.), oyster (Pleurotus ostreatus), and shiitake (Lentinula edodes) and reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) the “mushroom of immortality”.
Not as easy to cultivate but still available from wild crafters are the treasured and delicious morel (Morchella sp.), and the pig harvested truffle (Tuber melanosporum).
Most mushrooms should be cooked before eating, which will liberate nutrients and tenderize the fiber matrix and denature toxins in the flesh. Cooking makes the nutrients more bioavailable for digestion. It is difficult to overcook a mushroom. The main fiber they are composed of is chitin, similar to the keratin of your own cells and also found in crustacean shells. It resists degradation by heat and enzymes and so maintains a wonderful texture when cooked.
Mushrooms are fragile and spoil easily in a wet environment, remember they are food for molds and bacteria, too. Do not store mushrooms in plastic or impermeable bags or containers, paper is best for short term storage. In the fridge in paper most mushrooms will just dry out instead of spoiling, dried mushrooms can still be used in cooking. Drying, freezing and canning are best for long term storage.
Do not store mushrooms in plastic; if mushrooms are kept in non-permeable bags or containers, various molds, bacteria, and other potentially harmful secondary organisms can spoil them for human consumption. For short-term storage, it is best to keep mushrooms in paper bags or open containers in a refrigerator; drying, freezing, or canning are good options for long-term storage.
Edible mushrooms are high in fiber, loaded with good quality protein, and low in fat and calories. They are loaded with key nutrients like vitamin C, niacin (B3), riboflavin (B2), thiamin (B1), folate, and minerals phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, sodium and selenium. Mushrooms are one of the only food sources of vitamin D, mostly as D2, but some D3. Vitamin D levels can be increased by sun drying the mushroom spoor side up.
Most edible mushrooms are about one third protein by weight and can be up to half fiber. A portabella is about 20 grams of fiber per 100 grams of weight! Because of this abundance of usable protein, mushrooms carry a flavor unique to fungi and meat, umami. The Japanese word for ‘deliciousness’, umami is the fifth taste (with sweet, bitter, salty and sour) and is also found in meat, shrooms and soy sauce.
This bounty in the kitchen needs to be cooked to release its full potential,
It is important to mention that Organic really makes a big difference with mushrooms, as mushrooms adsorb and concentrate whatever they are grown in, heavy metals and air and water pollution. So it’s important to get mushrooms from a clean environment, be they cultivated or gathered.
The hard part of mushrooms is figuring out what is safe and tasty, since that is now not a danger, it is safe to explore the wonderful and delicious world of mushrooms.