Know your Mushrooms

Know your Mushrooms - Introduction

  • Edible mushrooms are the fleshy and edible fruiting bodies of several species of fungi. 
  • They belong to the macrofungi, because their fruiting structures are large enough to be seen with the naked eye. 
  • They can appear either below ground (hypogeous) or above ground (epigous) where they may be picked by hand.

Know your Mushrooms - Varieties

  • Most of the table mushrooms we eat are all of the same variety. Its name is Agaricus bisporus, and it includes portobello, cremini, and white button mushrooms.
  • The difference between these popular varieties of mushrooms is just age. 

White button mushrooms

  • The white button mushrooms, those very familiar kitchen staples, are simply the youngest variety. 
  • They have been cultivated, too, for that white colour and soft texture. 
  • In the wild these mushrooms are usually browner.

Portobello mushrooms

  • The portobello is the most mature mushroom here; it's really just an overgrown white mushroom.
  • They are left to grow for longer, until they have spread out into the popular, delicious, meaty cap.

Cremini mushrooms

  • The cremini mushroom is just in between the two varieties above. 
  • It's a moderately mature version of the white button mushroom, which is why it has a similar flavour. 
  • It's younger than the portobello, but still related, which is why these are sometimes sold as "baby bella" or "baby portobello" mushrooms.

Know your Mushrooms - Edibility

  • Edibility may be defined by criteria that include absence of poisonous effects on humans and desirable taste and aroma.
  • By some accounts, less than 10% of all mushrooms may be edible.
  • Edible mushrooms are consumed by humans for their nutritional and occasionally medicinal value as comestibles.
  • Mushrooms consumed for health reasons are known as medicinal mushrooms. 
  • Hallucinogenic mushrooms (e.g. Psilocybin mushrooms) are occasionally consumed for recreational or religious purposes, they can produce severe nausea and disorientation, and are therefore not commonly considered edible mushrooms.
  • Edible mushrooms include many fungal species that are either harvested wild or cultivated. 
  • Easily cultivatable and common wild mushrooms are often available in markets, and those that are more difficult to obtain (such as the prized truffle and matsutake) may be collected on a smaller scale by private gatherers. 

Know your Mushrooms - Identification

  • Before assuming that any wild mushroom is edible, it should be identified. 
  • Proper identification of a species is the only safe way to ensure edibility. 
  • Some mushrooms that are edible for most people can cause allergic reactions in some individuals, and old or improperly stored specimens can cause food poisoning
  • Deadly poisonous mushrooms that are frequently confused with edible mushrooms and responsible for many fatal poisonings are several species of the Amanita genus, in particular, Amanita phalloides, the death cap.
  • Some preparations may render certain poisonous mushrooms fit for consumption.

Know your Mushrooms - Medicinal use

  • Many species of medicinal mushrooms have been used in folk medicine for thousands of years. 
  • The use of medicinal mushrooms in folk medicine is best documented in the East. 
  • Medicinal mushrooms are now the subject of study for many ethnobotanists and medical researchers. 
  • The ability of some mushrooms to inhibit tumor growth and enhance aspects of the immune system has been a subject of research for approximately 50 years.
  • International mushroom research continues today, with a focus on mushrooms that may have hypoglycemic activity, anti-cancer activity, anti-pathogenic activity, and immune system enhancing activity

Know your Mushrooms - Nutrition

Oyster mushrooms
  • Recent research has found that the oyster mushroom naturally contains the cholesterol drug lovastatin.
  • Mushrooms produce large amounts of vitamin D when exposed to UV light.
  • Mushrooms that have been exposed to UV light are the only natural, vegan source of vitamin D.
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