Wild About Mushrooms

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Amazing variety of mushrooms. Photo: Mushroom Council

What is neither a fruit, vegetable, nor animal but is widely consumed around the world and found in the vegetable section of the grocery store? Well, it’s actually a fungus, which earns its own category…

The mushroom!

Mushrooms are the perfect ingredient for recipes that make you feel like fall has finally arrived.

Revered by many foodies, an acquired taste, or never to taste by others, mushrooms come in many shapes, sizes, and flavors. There are thousands of mushrooms in the world but only a small number are edible.

Mushrooms, always in season, are grown year-round in every state of the U.S. Pennsylvania leads the way with some 60 percent of the total production. The daring pick them wild, but most go for the cultivated mushroom. So, unless you really know your fungi, you might not want to pick your own to avoid food poisoning.

Thousands of Years in the Making

Mushrooms have grown and have been eaten for thousands of years. They date back more than 13,000 years ago when discovered in archaeological sites in South America. Continuing on through culinary history, the Greeks and Romans used mushrooms in their fare. The Romans are said to have had “food tasters” to make sure the mushrooms weren’t poisonous.

Mushroom Varieties

Most people are familiar with white button; the deeper, earthier flavored crimini; the meat-like, deep-flavored portabella; and the umbrella-shaped cap, rich and woodsy shiitake.

But to become a real mushroom expert, you might want to try the delicate gray, pale yellow, pink, or even blue oyster; the spindly stemmed, mild-flavored and -crunch enoki used frequently in Asian cuisine; the petite, mild, sweet, and nutty beech that are harvested in bouquets; and the petal-like, woodsy flavored maitake, also known as “hen of the woods.”

Toadstool Health

Mushrooms are loaded with nutrients, antioxidants, are fat-free, contain zero grams of cholesterol, and are low in calories.

They’re a good source of three different B vitamins: riboflavin, which plays a role in cellular function, energy production, growth, development, and metabolism; niacin, which promotes healthy skin and supports digestive and nervous system functions; and pantothenic acid, which is important for metabolism and the production of hormones.

Mushrooms are also heralded for being the only source of vitamin D in the produce section. Vitamin D is important for helping to build and maintain strong bones, which is especially critical as you age.

Cancer-Fighting Properties Being Discovered

The City of Hope cancer center is conducting research that shows powder made from white button mushrooms seems to lower prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels in men who were previously treated for prostate cancer. It’s also finding that breast cancer patients may be helped by consuming a mushroom-based extract.

Can Mushrooms Help You Lose Weight?

With a similar texture to meat, mushrooms are hearty, filling, and satisfying. But unlike meat, mushrooms are a low-calorie, fat-free, and cholesterol-free food. And that makes them a great alternative for those looking to manage their weight.

Mushrooms Versus Supplements

Some clinical trials have demonstrated that the vitamin D present in mushrooms is bioavailable and as equally effective in raising and maintaining a healthy adult’s vitamin D status as taking a supplement that contains vitamin D is. Although, the results aren’t conclusive. In fact, a 2012 study in dermato-endocrinology showed that 25 adults who consumed 2,000 IU of vitamin D from white button mushroom extract daily for a three-month period were able to raise and maintain their vitamin D 25(OH) levels similar to healthy adults who consumed 2,000 IU of supplements containing vitamin D2 or D3.

Medicinal Value

Magic or psychedelic mushrooms contain psilocybin, a compound that causes hallucinations. There are a few hundred varieties of these in the world. But the possession of them in the U.S. is illegal.

These mushrooms didn’t grow purely for the enjoyment of humans. Some scientists feel that these mushrooms developed their capability to ward off predatory insects.

Lewis Carroll must have had some knowledge of these mushrooms when he penned his Alice in Wonderland books. He described Alice growing and shrinking whenever she ate one side of the toadstool.

Jefferson Airplane supported Carroll’s thinking as they sang:

Go ask Alice, When she’s 10 feet tall…

When the men on the chessboard get up and tell you where to go,

And you’ve just had some kind of mushroom, And your mind is

moving low, Go ask Alice. I think she’ll know…

A Visit to the Mushroom Capital of the World

If you want to totally immerse yourself in mushroom lore, take a trip to Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, dubbed the “Mushroom Capital of the World.” Over a million pounds of mushrooms are said to be produced a day there. There’s a mushroom museum called The Mushroom Cap on State Street and some of the local mushroom houses open their doors to visitors.

Locals celebrate the mushroom at the annual Mushroom Festival, which is complete with a parade and blocks of food booths. There’s even the National Fried Mushroom Eating Championship, akin to the Wing Bowl; a 5K run; and a 2-mile fun walk.

New Year’s Eve is rung in by a giant mushroom drop rather than a ball drop.

One mushroom farm is Phillips Mushroom Farm. It has a museum, regular cooking demos, and an everything-mushroom gift shop.

A recent mushroom soup demo there was led by Natalie Jenks of Natalie’s Fine Foods. Her Maitake and Roasted Corn Soup With Poblanos and Crispy Maitake recipe combines fresh corn, the unique maitake mushroom, and seasonings for a wonderful fall soup.

To learn more about mushrooms, which includes health information and recipes, visit the Mushroom Council website.

Maitake and Roasted Corn Soup with Poblanos and Crispy Maitake

Maitake and Roasted Corn Soup with Poblanos and Crispy Maitake. Photo: C. Worthington

Maitake and Roasted Corn Soup with Poblanos and Crispy Maitake
Makes about 1 quart

2 lbs. Maitake Mushrooms
1 leek
1 cup fresh corn
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 quart chicken stock
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 sprigs thyme
4 cloves garlic
1 cup cream
2 Poblanos, minced
Salt and pepper
½ cup sour cream
2 limes cut into wedges
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, minced

Coarsely chop 1 1/2 pounds Maitake mushrooms. Toss with olive oil, corn and Poblanos. Roast at 400 degrees F. until crispy. Roast remaining Maitake at 450 degrees F. until crispy.

In a large stockpot, combine chicken stock, 2/3 of the roasted vegetables, celery, leeks, garlic and thyme. Simmer until tender. Remove thyme.

Add cream and puree until smooth. Add remaining roasted vegetables. Add salt and pepper to taste. Top with crispy maitakes, sour cream and cilantro.

Recipe by Natalie Jenks of Natalie’s Fine Foods.
Mushrooms: Mushroom soup

Easy Mushroom Soup. Photo: Mushroom Council

Easy Mushroom Soup
Makes 3 to 4 servings

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 shallot, finely chopped
4 ounces crimini mushrooms, chopped
4 ounces white button mushrooms, chopped
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 cups chicken stock
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt, or to taste
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper, or to taste
Sliced sautéed mushrooms for garnish, optional
Chopped parsley for garnish, optional

Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large pot such as a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and shallot, cook for 1 minute, until they begin to soften. Add the mushrooms and cook for about 3 minutes, until tender and browned. Transfer all the contents of the pot to a bowl.

Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter to the pot. Once melted, sprinkle in the flour and whisk it quickly into a paste. Reduce the heat to medium. Add the stock a little at a time, whisking out the clumps between each addition.

Increase the heat back to medium-high and allow the soup to simmer well for 3 minutes. Add the mushrooms back to the pot and continue to cook for 2 more minutes. The stock will thicken slightly to be somewhat creamy.

Let cook for 3 to 4 minutes, then ladle into bowls. Garnish with mushrooms and parsley, if desired.

Recipe courtesy of The Mushroom Council


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