Hello my dear readers,
When I have started to do the research for this post I was amazed at how many information regarding the evolution and structure of the mushrooms are out there. But since I am not a mycologist it was pretty difficult to understand something and all I want is to know a little bit more about this delicious food.
Many people love mushrooms not only for their taste but also because they are passionate about their harvest or their cultivation. They’re popular around the world due to their versatility as well as their meat-like heft and texture.
White button, portobello, Shiitake, Maitake, Oyster, Enoki, Beech, Chanterelle, porcini mushrooms, just to name a few, are all a delicious food, capable of flavoring many different dishes and, at the same time, they have an almost negligible caloric value, very similar to that of vegetables of which they possess similar nutritional properties. The search for mushrooms, especially the porcini mushrooms, is a passion that unites many people and allows them to combine days spent outdoors with physical activity, in addition to the satisfaction of perhaps eating together what they have gathered.
So far the positive aspects, but unfortunately there are also numerous risks associated with this food and we must be careful how to collect and consume them.
It must also be considered that when we talk about mushrooms, often creates a lot of confusion because many people believe that it is a type of vegetable, while other people even think that it is a particular type of fruit. Let’s clear this immediately: mushrooms are neither vegetables nor fruits because they do not grow from any flower, do not have seeds in them and do not even have roots. Mushrooms belong to a kind of their own called Fungi or Mycetae and, even if from the nutritional point of view they are considered as vegetables, the mushrooms are simply … mushrooms. Mushrooms includes more than 100,000 known species, although the diversity has been estimated at more than 3 million species.
The Florentine naturalist Pier Antonio Micheli (1679-1737), has the indisputable merit of having discovered the spores, disavowing with this brilliant discovery the theory of the “spontaneous generation of fungi” which dominated the scientific circles of his time.
We often say: “It grows like a mushroom!” indicating everything that develops very quickly.
The mushrooms, precisely because they seem to come out of nowhere on the ground or on trunks of plants as well as because of the poisonous and dangerous nature of some species and because of the hallucinogenic effects of others, have inspired the imagination of people since ancient times, wrapping themselves in a halo of magic and mystery and becoming protagonists of popular beliefs and legends.
According to some beliefs, in fact, it is stated that the mushrooms that grow in circle are generated by nocturnal dances of witches or gnomes, “circle of witches”.
In ancient China, for example, the ku or chih mushroom was considered a symbol of long life, magical, divine and in some way linked to immortality.
The Aztecs and the Mayans considered hallucinogenic mushrooms “divine flesh” for their particular properties.
Even in ancient Greece, as in China, the fungus was considered a symbol of life and therefore divine. In fact, a legend tells that the hero Perseus, after a long journey, finding himself tired and thirsty, was able to refresh himself with water collected inside the cap of a mushroom; for this reason he decided to found in that place a new city which he called Mycenae, giving life to the Mycenaean civilization.
Where the mushrooms grow?
In meadows, in gardens, in parks, in forest areas destroyed by fire, and even in the arid asphalt road, but the ideal environment for picking mushrooms is the woods, at any latitude and height, up to almost 2,000 meters.
Mushrooms have no flowers, fruits and seeds; they do not have leaves and therefore cannot carry out photosynthesis nor produce most of the vitamins.
They must absorb the useful substances from the plants, for example from the leaves that rot on the ground, but also from the remains of the animals. While the animals move to look for food, the mushrooms simply “suck” it in their environment.
Under the “hat” of the fruiting body, the tiny spores are formed and, falling to the ground, give rise to special filaments. These filaments merge to produce a new subterranean weaving and therefore a new mushroom.
It is interesting to note how the mushrooms, to come to light, must overcome a series of resistances produced by the consistency of the soil or wood, from the residues of which the ground itself is sprinkled, such as twigs, pebbles, foliage, etc.
The climatic factors favorable to the birth of the fungi are the high temperatures combined with atmospheric humidity, while the dry heat, the wind and the cold act as an obstacle.
Growing mushrooms at home is the best alternative to harvesting in the woods, which takes a long time and is linked to the seasonality of the product, while cultivating them at home you can enjoy fresh mushrooms all year round.
For those with limited time and space available, there are practical kits on the market that allow you to grow mushrooms at home without getting dirty, avoiding the typical smell of mold and in a faster way.
The use of this ingredient in different cuisines concerns many recipes and in particular the preparation of Italian mushroom risotto, one of the most popular dishes based on mushrooms.
Mushrooms can be eaten fresh, always available like those grown in mushroom farms, or picked-up especially in September-October, or grown by yourself, but you can also use frozen or dried ones to make tasty dishes. They can be used in the preparation of rich seasonings for pasta, polenta, salads, velvety creams and to enrich the main courses and side dishes. The famous chapels of breaded and fried porcini are also famous because they are fried with oil and therefore provide a lot of calories but of course better to limit their consume.
Beer yeast, a unicellular fungus, is used to make bread and other wheat-based products, such as pizza or other leavened pastas. It is also the most used yeast species to produce alcoholic beverages through alcoholic fermentation.
Like all foods, also mushrooms should be consumed in moderation and with caution by children under the age of 3, the elderly and pregnant women. Make sure that the mushrooms are safe by buying them from authorized retailers or, if you choose to pick them yourself in the woods, you should comply with the regulations and always have them checked by the experts before consuming them. In fact, the ingestion of unsafe fungi can be dangerous and cause health problems, up to death. I know is fun walking into the woods and picking your own mushrooms, but if you are not sure what are you picking then please don’t eat them, let the experts decide if you can or cannot eat them, even if you think you know them.
Since it is not always possible to eat fresh mushrooms, especially those from harvesting, which is done only in certain seasons, it is useful to know which preservation methods keep the nutrients better.
- Drying: very common for porcini, but not only, it is a method that consists in evaporating the water present in the fungus. In this way the nutrients remain, but the mushrooms must then be rehydrated to be consumed; alternatively they are used to flavor dishes, crumbled.
- Preservation in oil: this is the most widely used technique at home. It consists in boiling the mushrooms in equal parts of oil and vinegar for a few minutes, then put them in jars covered with the cooking liquid. The method disperses many of the nutrients in the liquid itself and can also be dangerous for the possible development of Clostridium botulinum. Absolutely do not consume it if you notice the presence of air bubbles.
- Freezing: the mushrooms that you want to keep in the freezer must be blanched and dried well before freezing them and you need to consume them within 3 months. This procedure will prevent possible bacterial contamination. Porcini instead can be frozen even raw, both whole and cut into slices.
Mushrooms are not only considered an ingredient to be used in the kitchen. For centuries, mushrooms have been known not only as food but also as a natural remedy.
In fact, we increasingly speak of medicinal mushrooms. We will have to wait to understand if in the opinion of science the mushrooms can really be considered “miraculous” though.
Mushrooms are composed of almost 90% water and have very little fat and calories, 100g of porcini mushrooms have 26 Kcal. Fungi are mostly sources of fiber, useful for the good functioning of the intestine, but they also contain traces of vegetable proteins and a good quantity of vitamins and mineral salts such as potassium, phosphorus, calcium and iron, definitely it can safely be part of a correct and balanced diet.
Mushrooms are also a source of antioxidant substances that are considered useful for the prevention of aging and the damage caused to our body by free radicals.
The mushrooms are rich in selenium, whose nutritional supply is considered important for strengthening the immune system. Mushrooms have always been considered useful for strengthening the immune system, and are used as a natural antibiotic and to protect the body from seasonal ailments.
Some benefits of fungi can also affect the ability to lower bad cholesterol and keep cholesterol levels in the blood at bay. The intake of mushrooms is considered useful by non-conventional medicine especially during the season changes to strengthen the body’s defenses.
In mushrooms we find the vitamin B3 that our body needs to contribute to the proper functioning of the nervous system and proper oxygenation of the blood. Vitamin B2 is essential for the production of red blood cells and metabolism.
China tops the list of world’s largest producer of mushroom and truffles with an annual production of about 5 million tons, with the Yunnan province being the leading producer area.
Italy comes second with an annual production of over 761,000 tons of mushroom and truffles in the world, with Piedmont being the leading region.
Do you like mushrooms? What is your favourite way of eating them?
Thank you all for reading.
Join me next time and let’s discover Torino or Turin in Piedmont, Italy.
And if you would like to discover more about our food, you may enjoy my previous posts
- Discovering our food: Rosemary
- Discovering our food: Beans
- Discovering our food: Cauliflower
- Discovering our food: Grapes
- Discovering our food: Eggplants
- Discovering our food: Parsley
- Discovering our food: Zucchini
- Discovering our food: Watermelon
- Discovering our food: Tomatoes
- Discovering our food: Basil