How do you feel about mushrooms? I know some people cannot stand them and have memories of slimy mushrooms eaten as children. And how many of us have gone for a big breakfast, only to experience the slimy tinned mushroom appearing on our plates.
It seems a lot of people have mushrooms on their ‘food they don’t eat list’.
And they don’t normally crop up in your latest super food list.
But the ancient humble mushroom, which is basically a fungi, is packed full of nutrients, has so many health benefits and is so versatile.
Mushrooms are rich in fibre, B vitamins and contain a powerful antioxidant called selenium which is good for your immune system and fights cell and tissue damage. They are also great sources of copper, magnesium and phosphorous.
They are a low calorie source of fiber and protein. And may also lower the risk of developing serious health conditions, such as Alzheimer’s, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
There are in total 50,000 different types of mushrooms. But not all of them will end up on your breakfast table.
So what is a mushroom?
A mushroom is the fruit of a fungus called Mycelium that grows underground.
It’s basically the fruit of a plant, except that the ‘seeds’ it produces are millions of microscopic spores that form in the gills or pores underneath the mushroom’s cap. I am sure you have seen them growing in a forest, within trees or in decaying logs. In fact, you can grow your own mushrooms, all you need to do is to get hold of some mushroom spores, from a reputable seller.
Within the 50,000 species of mushroom are molds and yeasts. Various types are hallucinogenic, and 1 to 2 % of species are poisonous, and others are used for their medicinal properties.
Although most mushrooms are edible, we eat very few of them as most are tough, woody, gelatinous, give off an unpleasant smell, or taste bad. There are only about 20 varieties that are truly good to eat.
It can be a nice idea to pick your own mushrooms but unless you have trained or are with an experienced forager, I would always recommend buying them from a store rather than picking them in the wild. Poisonous mushrooms can be hard to identify and even experts can make mistakes.
What to look for when buying mushrooms
I love to wander around farmers’ markets to see all the different types. If you are ever in London, Borough Market has some incredible varieties.
When buying mushrooms you want them to be mould free and firm to the touch. The best way to store them is in a paper bag inside the fridge. This way they will last for about five days. If they come in plastic, then remove them from their packaging right away, they will go slimy left inside.
Using mushrooms in your cooking
Some of the best mushrooms I have found to use in cooking are Shitake, reishi, oyster, white button, porcini, portobello, chanterelle and enoki.
Mushrooms are so versatile, you can cook them in omelettes, sautéed in garlic, parsley and olive oil. You can also make delicious soups and risottos.
They make a great meat alternative for vegetarians and vegans, a portabello mushroom cooked whole can replace burgers or steak and soaked porcini water can be added to stock to add a rich taste.
And added to stir-fries and soups, mushrooms can add an earthy, meaty taste.
Using mushrooms as medicine
Medicinal Mushrooms have so many benefits. They have been used in eastern medicine for centuries. You can take medicinal mushrooms as a supplement, or add them to smoothies or juices. The best ones that come in a powdered form and capsule are:
This is one of the most popular medicinal mushrooms. It’s a true superfood, and can help with weight loss, strengthen the immune system and may even fight cancer cells.
If you need some mental clarity then this mushroom is not only full of antioxidants and strengthens the immune system, it also helps with the production of the bioprotein and myelin which are crucial to brain health.
Turkey tail contains a compound called polysaccharide-K (PSK) that stimulates the immune system. It’s known to improve the immune system of people receiving chemotherapy.
Chaga mushrooms are an antioxidant powerhouse, making them an excellent choice for fighting free radicals and inflammation. It also helps combat aging and lowers cholesterol.
This mushroom is great for those who are very active, it can help improve energy, athletic performance and muscle recovery
This mushroom is a type of adaptogen. Adaptogens assist the body in fighting against any type of mental or physical difficulty. They also work to regulate systems of the body that have become unbalanced.
No blog on mushrooms is complete without a brief mention of hallucinogenic or ‘magic’ mushrooms.
Magic mushrooms have been used for over 10,000 years in various spiritual and medical rituals for their ability to alter consciousness and trigger mystical experiences.
Although it’s illegal to use them as a recreational drug in the UK, studies are showing that mushrooms which contain psilocybin, the compound which makes them hallucinogenic, are helping to overcome hard-to-treat (or treatment-resistant) and life-disrupting conditions like addiction and major depression.
Just another example of their amazing healing properties!
If you don’t already incorporate mushrooms in your diet try to incorporate them into your cooking. The health benefits are endless.
Here is a simple recipe which you can have for breakfast, lunch or as a side dish at dinner.
Funghi Trifolati (sauteed mushrooms) recipe
A variety of mushrooms, thinly sliced
1-2 garlic cloves peeled and slightly crushed
Himalayan salt and pepper
A few sprigs of fresh parsley finely chopped
Optional: fresh chili or chilli flakes
Place the mushrooms in a pan over medium high heat with the olive oil and garlic. You can add the chilli flakes if you like.
Add the salt and pepper. Let the mushrooms cook until the liquid released by the mushrooms evaporates and they are a golden brown colour.
Once ready, add the parsley, more salt and pepper if you like and serve hot. It is that easy.
I hope you have enjoyed reading this and are considering adding some more mushrooms into your diet. I would love to hear what your favourite mushroom or mushroom recipe is.