MUSHROOMS: Benefits & Varieties
See also: Mushrooms 1; Mushroom Growing; Mushroom Trivia; Mushroom Quotes; Another Mushroom Article
Mushrooms are not a true vegetable in the sense that it does not have any leaves, roots, or seeds, and really does not need any light to grow. So what exactly is a mushroom? It is a fungus, which grows in the dark and creates more mushrooms by releasing spores. Mushrooms are found all over the world and have been a very honored food in many cultures. Ancient Egyptians considered mushrooms to be food for the royals. The French adored the fungus and began harvesting them in caves during the seventeenth century. These famous fungi didn't reach popularity in the United States until the late 1800s.
Mushrooms are brimming with protein, B vitamins (riboflavin, niacin and pantothenic), and minerals (selenium, potassium,and copper). They're low in calories and may have antibacterial substances to help the body. Cooked fresh mushrooms offer the most nutritional benefit versus the canned version that may have more sodium.
How do mushrooms grow?
Since mushrooms are grown from microscopic spores, Mushroom farming is a step-by-step process that involves:
- two phases of composting
- spawning (mushroom farmer's collecting the spores)
- casing (a soil mixture that acts as a water reservoir that is placed on top of the mushroom spores)
- pinning (the growth stage where the shape of the mushroom forms)
It's best to buy your mushrooms from a reputable grower or grocer instead of hunting them yourself, as there are many poisonous mushrooms. Incorrectly identifying them can lead to symptoms of sweating, cramps, diarrhea, confusion, convulsions, and potentially result in liver damage, or even death.
There are over 38,000 mushroom varieties today. Some are edible and some are highly toxic. Here's a small sample of the most popular edible mushrooms you'll see in the market:
Agaricus (White or Button)
These mushrooms are the most common variety prepackaged in supermarkets; available fresh, canned, or frozen. White mushrooms are mildly flavored, are tasty when eaten raw but even more flavorful when cooked.
Chanterelles, or Girolle
These trumpet shaped fungi are highly regarded mushrooms favored for their gold to yellow color, and rich flavor, ranging from apricot to earthier tasting. Chanterelles are best eaten fresh, although they are also available dried or canned.
Crimini, or Italian Brown
These mushrooms are similar to the button variety, yet they are darker in color, have a richer flavor, and have a more dense texture. Criminis were once an imported mushroom but are now grown domestically.
Enoki, or Enokitake
This fungi takes on a sproutlike appearance with small caps and thin, long, stems. Native to Japan, white in color, with a light fruity taste, these mushrooms are excellent when served raw in soups and salads.
These mushrooms are highly priced and highly prized for their intense earthly flavor. They are usually found in the wild, although can now be grown commercially. This conical shaped, honey combed surface fungi is small, with dark brown hues, is suitable for stuffing and is ideal for sauces and stews.
Oyster, or Pleurotus
These mushrooms grow in clusters, and range in color from off-white to shades of brown. Subtly tasting like an oyster, its chewy texture is more suited to cooked dishes.
Porcini mushrooms are well valued for their meaty texture, interesting flavor, and distinguishing shape. These mushrooms vary in size and is domestically grown or imported from Europe depending on the season. This variety is usually expensive, but is considered one of the finest-tasting mushrooms.
These are large cremini-like mushrooms that are sometimes the size of a regular hamburger! These fungi are circular, flat, and long, with a dense, chewy texture. Portobellos are excellent for grilling or roasting.
Shiitake mushrooms were originally cultivated on natural oak logs and only grown in Japan, but are now available domestically. These mushrooms are large, black-brown, and have an earthy rich flavor. This fungi is enjoyed in stir-fries, soups, or even a meat substitute. Dried Shiitakes have more intense flavors and are sometimes preferable to fresh.
Clean mushrooms only when you are ready to use them. Remove any bits of the debris on the surface, rinse with cold running water or gently wipe the mushrooms with a damp cloth, paper towel, or soft brush.
How do I use dried mushrooms? Dried mushrooms are intensely concentrated in flavor and should be treated more like a seasoning than a vegetable. You'll need to soak the dried mushrooms in hot water for 20-30 minutes, rinse, then chop, and use. Saving the soaking water and adding it to your sauces or soups will intensify the mushroom flavor.
Mushrooms are available all year long and although there are many different varieties, selecting any kind of mushrooms are easy. You should look for firm, moisture-free (not dry), unblemished caps, and free of mold. Place purchased loose mushrooms in a paper bag in the refrigerator. Airtight plastic bags tend to retain moisture and will accelerate spoilage. Properly stored mushrooms will last for approximate five days.
Mushrooms can be frozen but they must be cleaned, cooked, and placed in a ½ cup or 1 cup container to freeze. Don't forget to mark the date on the container, frozen mushrooms will last several months.
Mushrooms are versatile and may be eaten raw or cooked whole, sliced or chopped. Certain varieties like shiitake and portabella, must have their stems discarded or used as a flavoring agent, as they are often tough.
Preparation Hint: Squeeze a small amount of lemon juice on the mushrooms to retain the color.
Make Mushrooms Part of Your 5 A Day Plan
- Add sliced mushrooms to your salad, soups, and pasta.
- Mushrooms make an attractive addition to your vegetable platters.
- Have a veggie burger by grilling portabello mushrooms and adding lettuce and tomato to your whole wheat bun.
- Include sliced mushrooms to your stir-frys.
- Making homemade pizza? Why not try a white pizza combo with low fat mozzarella toped with different kinds of mushrooms.
- Like to grill? Include mushrooms onto your skewers in addition to the bell peppers, squash, and pineapple.