What is a mushroom?
The earthy, delicate flavours of mushrooms add another dimension to dishes. Simply pile mushrooms onto baking paper parcels with butter, crème fraîche, fresh chopped parsley, garlic and a pinch of salt and pepper then seal the parcels and bake. Relish the glorious aroma when the mushrooms are served.
The ancient Egyptians considered mushrooms to be a luxury food, only to be eaten by the pharaohs. The Roman emperor Julius Caesar made rules about who was permitted to eat mushrooms. Records show that mushrooms were also part of the ancient Greek diet in 300 BC.
The French started cultivating mushrooms in caves and tunnels in the late 15th century. Eventually, modern cultivation methods were developed and mushrooms are now available year round in Australia.
In Australia, mushrooms are classified as cultivated or wild. Mushrooms available in the supermarket and fresh food markets are usually cultivated. These include button, cups and flat, oyster, shiitake, enoki, shimeji, Portabello and Swiss brown mushrooms. These mushrooms vary in size, shape and colour. Woodear mushrooms are popular in Asian cuisines and can be found in specialty fresh food markets.
Wild mushrooms are not always available for purchase. They are collected from forests and paddocks and include pine forest (also known as saffron milkcap) and bolet (also known as Slippery Jack) mushrooms and morels.
Why mushrooms are good to eat
- Mushrooms are a good source of riboflavin (vitamin B2) and niacin (vitamin B3).
- They contain dietary fibre, which is important in keeping your bowel healthy.
- Mushrooms also contain minerals such as potassium (which helps to regulate blood pressure), phosphorus, zinc and selenium.
- Energy – 100 g of mushrooms supplies about 100 kJ (depending on the variety).
How are they grown and harvested?
Mushrooms do not require sunlight to grow. They reproduce by releasing spores from the gills (the delicate rib structures under the cap) that are carried by the wind to other areas.
Commercially, mushrooms are grown in artificially controlled, hygienic environments, with careful monitoring of temperature, humidity and other conditions required for growing.
Spawn, the seeds of mushrooms, is added to a soil-like substance made of a blended, nutrient-rich mixture of wheat straw, poultry waste or material from stables (called the substrate). Peat moss placed over the surface helps the mushrooms grow.
Mushrooms appear about 12 days later and are harvested by hand after about three weeks. Over a six-week period, three batches of mushroom crops (flushes) are produced from each batch of substrate. The substrate is then used as potting mix or garden mulch.
Select mushrooms that are dry and firm to the touch. Avoid slimy, wilted, discoloured or damaged mushrooms.
How to store and keep mushrooms
Store mushrooms in a paper bag in the crisper section of your fridge. Avoid keeping mushrooms in plastic bags (or containers that collect moisture) as they will ‘sweat’ and deteriorate. Use your mushrooms within three or four days of buying them.
How to use
- Roast a selection of different mushrooms with oil, garlic and herbs (try sprigs of thyme and a few bay leaves) until tender – add it to pasta, risotto, scrambled eggs or pop onto toast.
- Stuff flat mushrooms with chopped garlic, chilli, feta cheese and freshly chopped basil – drizzle with olive oil and bake until fragrant.
- Toss button or cup mushrooms on a barbeque with oil, fresh chilli, salt and pepper – scatter toasted pine nuts and freshly chopped parsley on top and serve with meat, chicken or fish.
- Make a mushroom tart – cook mushrooms (try Swiss brown or button) with cream, a pinch of nutmeg and coriander powder, then add the mixture to tart cases and bake until crisp and golden.
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Better Health Channel
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