Photo of enoki mushrooms by Kelly Cline | IST
CAITLIN BARRETT is a member of THE NIBBLE editorial staff. She wishes that she could make a joke here about being a “fun guy.”
KAREN HOCHMAN is Editorial Director of THE NIBBLE.
Updated January 2018
Product Reviews / Main Nibbles / Vegetables
Three Cheers for the Fungus Among Us
Page 1: An Overview Of Wild & Specialty Mushrooms
CAPSULE REPORT: This is Page 1 of a six-page article on wild and specialty mushrooms. Click on the black links below to visit other pages.
Depending on how old you are, once upon a time “gourmet” meant that you bought your white button mushrooms fresh, instead of in a can. Today, “gourmet” means that you don’t buy white button mushrooms at all. It’s all about wild.
Wild mushrooms are one of the most exciting and versatile categories of food. They instantly turn a plain piece of meat or chicken, or a bare bowl of pasta, into a gourmet feast.
But most people aren’t aware of how glorious the world of mushrooms is. Asian markets, farmers markets, online retailers and specialty grocers are ready to enrich your plate with a selection of mushrooms that bear little resemblance to the cute, though not too flavorful, fellow that has long been resident wrapped in plastic in your supermarket produce section.
The popularity of foraged wild and cultivated specialty mushrooms can be attributed to a change in mushroom farming in the late 1970s and early 1980s. At that time, owners of mushroom farms and wild mushroom hunters began to introduce the public to unique varieties of fungi that most people had never seen before.
It’s hard to imagine a time when the meaty portobello wasn’t a household name; but without this big boy, we would still be feasting on snowy white buttons. We would never know the light crunch of raw enoki, the hearty, meaty and smoky taste of shiitakes and the nutty flavor that sautéed morels bring to a dish.
Some of the tastiest and most interesting mushrooms are wild, but only about 3% of the wild mushrooms in the world are suitable for human consumption.
Translation: “not suitable” means poisonous, so don’t go picking the mushrooms that sprout up in your yard after a damp spell, or the beauties you find while hiking the woods.
It takes extensive training to identify an edible mushroom, so avoid the romantic (and economical) temptation to “pick your own.”
(We’ve recommended a book at the end of this article if you want to learn to identify edible mushrooms.)
Groovy gills: mushroom photo by David Guglielmo | SXC.
According to an article in The New York Times, mushrooms are a “powerhouse of nutrition.”
Low in calories and fat and cholesterol-free, mushrooms contain a modest amount of fiber but more than a dozen minerals and vitamins, including copper, potassium, magnesium, zinc and B vitamins such as folate. Mushrooms are also high in antioxidants such as selenium and glutathion (GSH), substances believed to protect cells from damage and reduce chronic disease and inflammation.
Some studies suggest mushrooms are the richest dietary source of another antioxidant called ergothioneine, ERGO, which is also present in large amounts in red beans, oat bran and liver. ERGO and other antioxidants are primarily concentrated in the caps, not the stems.
The nutrient profile of a mushroom varies, depending on both the type and the method of cultivation.
- The common button mushroom is high in potassium and selenium.
Specialty mushrooms like the gray and yellow oyster, shiitake, maiitake and porcini, have far higher concentrations of both ERGO and GSH.
Porcini mushrooms have the highest amounts of ERGO, followed by yellow oyster mushrooms.
The studies did not include cremini or portobello mushrooms; but these also contain significant, though lower, amounts of ERGO, according to the Mushroom Council.
Continue To Page 2: Buying Mushrooms
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