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Mushrooms An Honored Food

Mushrooms and honored food

So what exactly is a mushroom?

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.

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.

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).
  • Harvesting.

Mushrooms

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.

Varieties of Mushrooms

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.

Chanterelles

Historical accounts of the Chinese mention mushrooms, specifically chanterelles in preventing blindness, alleviating dry skin, and keeping mucous membranes moist (Perler 2001). Many African tribes also harvest this fungus for consumption in the Congo basin rain forests. Though a staple food source for Native Americans, chanterelles are not noted as a culturally significant species among North American Native tribes. Many european colonizers brought along an appetite for wild harvested mushrooms to North America.

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.

Crimini mushrooms

Enoki, or Enokitake
This fungi takes on a sprout like 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.

Enoki mushrooms

Morel
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.

Morel  mushrooms

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.

Oyster or Pleurotus mushrooms

Porcino
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.

Porcino mushroom

Portobello
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.

Portobello mushrooms

Shiitake
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.

Shiitake mushrooms

Cleaning Mushrooms

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.

Preparing Mushrooms

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 to 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 1/2 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.

Mushroom Nutrition

B complex vitamins -- riboflavin, niacin and pantothenic acid. They are all found in every cell in our body, helping release energy from the fat, protein and carbohydrate in our food. In addition: Riboflavin promotes healthy skin and good vision.

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