Mushrooms are not just the favorite food of the Hobbits in Lord of the Rings, they are a delicious and versatile addition to the human diets as well. Mushrooms are also very healthy, and as less meat and more plant-based food is a healthy eating goal today, mushrooms are more popular than ever.
What Nutrients Do Mushrooms Have?
Mushrooms provide needed protein for vegans and vegetarians, but for everyone else, they also provide fiber and the hard to get Vitamin B Group – thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, biotin, and cobalamins. On top of that, they are a source of Vitamin C and essential minerals like iron and selenium. Mushrooms pack a nutritious punch and they are low in calories as well. But few people go foraging for wild mushrooms today, as our forbears did.
Grocery store mushrooms
Instead, most people are more familiar with the white cultivated mushrooms on the supermarket shelf, that range from small-capped buttons to large flat portobello types. These types of mushrooms are agaric fungi a subdivision of the stem fungi (Basidiomycota). What you see on the surface as “mushroom” is the fruit body of the actual fungi, the mycelium, which grows underground. Agaricomycotina includes most edible mushrooms that are collected for consumption. But no matter which size of mushroom you are looking for, it is all the same variety of commercially farmed products, picked at different stages of growth.
The many names of the common mushroom
Scientists know the Common Mushroom as Agaricus bisporus. It is sold under many names, such as portobello mushroom, button mushroom, cultivated mushroom, table mushroom, champignon mushroom, and many other names.
Cultivated mushrooms are available throughout the year in different breeds, varieties and sizes. The White Button mushroom is by far the most popular. But there are also light brown and brown varieties. Brown mushrooms differ from the white varieties only by their stronger flavor and lower water content.
what to do with portobello mushrooms and Button mushrooms?
As the most widely consumed mushroom in the world, the Button Mushroom is found in kitchens all around the world. Due to their versatility, they set your culinary imagination no limit. They can be roasted, stewed, stewed, fried, filled, or even turn out delicious when cooked at low heat in a slow cooker.
The button mushrooms are ideal for salads too, as they are one of the only fungi that can be eaten raw. Try tossing them into a salad of tomatoes, parsley, and basil leaves, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt. This is a true gourmet treat to have with pizza, as well as a very healthy and low-calorie snack. Some sources suggest that white mushrooms should be cooked first, but lightly sauteeing them in stock or water will not spoil this salad.
How to saute mushrooms
Like little button mushrooms, the larger varieties such as the portobello mushrooms are deliciously fried and served with steak, sausages or eggs. But to maintain the good dietary qualities of mushrooms, you must learn to cook them properly. Mushrooms absorb a lot of liquid, so frying them in oil is tantamount to turning these innocent vegetables into greasy plant burgers. Try this gentler, less greasy method.
Get the pan really hot and splash in a bit of water or stock, so that it sizzles, then add your mushrooms. Add more liquid as the pan dries out, but make sure you don’t leave the mushrooms swimming in stock. The mushrooms will crisp up as the stock evaporates and at this stage, you can add a knob of butter or a touch of olive oil for flavor.
Try serving mushrooms cooked this way on toast with scrambled egg on the side, or fold them into a freshly made omelet. Add some milk and a dash of cream and you can cook them further to create a mushroom sauce, that is delicious served with steak.
Mushroom soup is another great way to use up those extra mushrooms in the fridge. Dice a small onion and fry until soft in a little butter or oil in the bottom of a saucepan. Add in two cups of chopped mushrooms, saute for a moment, then add a cup of chicken stock and half a cup of light cream. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with fresh parsley. You can also put the soup in a blender when it has cooled to make summery chilled Cream of Mushrooms.
Grilled and Filled
Big portobello mushrooms offer their own special taste treats. Remove the stalks and stuff the cup with a mixture of cooked brown rice, cheese, and herbs. Top with grated cheese and put under the grill for a few minutes until the cheese is bubbly and brown. This is a great tasty snack to have on movie night.
You can do great things with the commonly cultivated variety, but why stop there? You will find many less familiar varieties on your supermarket shelves these days, including orientals like shiitake and oyster. These are wonderful in stir-fries, and you can keep packets of dried shiitake mushrooms in your pantry to add to soups.
Best way to store mushrooms
Remember to pack your fresh mushrooms in the paper bags provided, and store them in the bags in the fridge. Plastic bags or containers will make them sweat and go slimy, but brown paper shades them from light and allows them to breathe, so they will keep longer. If you are handy, make your own calico bags (similar to ham bags but smaller) to keep your mushrooms fresh.
Foraging wild Mushrooms
If you ever do get a chance to go wild mushroom picking, make sure you have an expert with you. There are just too many different ones out there and you really don’t want to bring home any of the ones we must not eat. Take Courses to learn which mushrooms are safe to eat. There are many organizations that offer online courses or guided mushroom identification tours out in the wild.
Hobbits could always tell the good mushrooms from the bad – but for the rest of us, the supermarket is a pretty good place to forage.
NEVER pick any mushrooms or fungi that you don’t know. NEVER eat any mushrooms or fungi that you don’t know. Misidentified mushrooms can make you very sick or kill you.
If in doubt, don’t eat it!
Frequent questions about mushrooms
Is a mushroom a vegetable?
What we know as mushrooms are the fruit of Fungi. Fungi are an independent biological kingdom. So mushrooms do not belong to the plants and are not a vegetable. The other two well-known kingdoms are the animals (Animalia) and the plants (Plantae). According to current knowledge, fungi are closer to animals than to plants.
What are mushrooms made of?
When talking about mushrooms, one generally means the fruit of the mycelium. This fruit, the mushroom consists of a hat and a stem, which can have different shapes, depending on the type of mushroom.
The mushrooms consist of over 90% water, about 5% protein, and less than 1% fat. There are also amino acids, vitamins, and minerals.
The main component in the cell wall is Chitin, giving the mushroom its “solid” structure. Chitin is a polysaccharide and is also found in the exoskeleton of arthropods (crustaceans, insects, arachnids) and some other animals.
Are mushrooms plants?
No mushrooms don’t belong to the plants, they represent a separate kingdom. Plants produce their own food through photosynthesis with the help of chlorophyll, the green pigment that gives leaves their color.
Mushrooms have no leafy green (chlorophyll) and do not propagate by seeds, but by spores. What we call “mushrooms” are merely the fruits of a large, web-like underground – living organism.
Should you buy mushrooms packed in plastic?
In supermarkets, mushrooms are commonly sold in small plastic containers. This is convenient for the retailer and the buyer, but it is not the best for the mushrooms. Mushrooms spoil very fast when they are packed and stored in airtight plastic containers. The best would be to buy mushrooms from the bulk and have them wrapped in a paper bag. As this is not always possible, inspect mushrooms packed in plastic thoroughly. When home, remove them from the plastic and store them airy in a paper bag or wrap them in a cotton towel.
How long are mushrooms good for?
Cooked mushroom dishes can be kept in glass or porcelain dishes for up to 24 hours in the refrigerator. DO NOT store in the metal storage containers such as copper pans or aluminum dishes.
Fresh mushrooms when stored properly in the fridge do fine for two or three days.
One must never forget that mushrooms spoil quickly.
What happens if you eat bad mushrooms?
When mushrooms are stored too long or under the wrong conditions, they start to decompose and toxic substances can form. Spoiled mushrooms can cause severe food poisoning.
Always inspect stored mushrooms, if they have brown spots or smell unpleasant, away with it. When in doubt about freshness, away with it!
NEVER eat any mushrooms or fungi that you don’t know!!!
Sources and more info about Mushrooms
Courses about mushroom identification and guided tours
Terra Fleurs – Guided Mushroom Hunting Tours
MYCOLOGOS – Online Mycology Courses
Mushroom Exam – Identification Courses