Mushrooms are often thought of as a vegetable but in reality they are members of the fungus group. They have stems, caps and gills on the underside of the cap. The name “mushroom” refers to all of the thousands of different varieties of edible and wild mushrooms but historically all inedible types were called toadstools. The name “toadstool” came from a German fairy tale about a toad that would sit on their red mushroom and catch flies with its tongue.
Mushrooms are not for everyone (and by everyone I mean me). They are however very good for you and if you are not a fan there are many ways to disguise the taste but still incorporate them into your diet (recipes to come).
Varieties: There are known to be over twenty popular edible varieties of commercially grown mushrooms in the world however that does not count the thousands of wild types that are in existence. Some of the most popular varieties of edible types are the white button mushrooms (photo below), chanterelle, shiitake, oyster, pig, matsutake, maituke and of course the coveted truffle. They are most commonly known to be white, brown, purple, black, pink, yellow, blue, green or red.
Edible mushrooms are consumed for their earthy taste and nutritional value whereas others are consumed (most commonly in Asia) for their medicinal value. There is also the white hallucinogenic or “magic mushroom” that is eaten for recreational or religious purposes.
There are many wild types that are poisonous and inedible which is why unless you are an expert you should never pick or eat wild mushrooms. Consuming the wrong one could be fatal. Toadstools are in this toxic category and therefore should be avoided. They are typically red with white spots.
Season: Many mushrooms are considered year round vegetables and they are of course available in the grocery store year round. However their peak is typically in the fall and winter. In ancient times mushrooms were recorded as being eaten over the winter months because they were readily available, stored well and held their nutritional value.
Heath Benefits: Mushrooms have long been used for medicinal purposes predominantly in Asia. There are many reasons for this but many are due to their high levels of anti-oxidants. To start with they are low in calories, fat, cholesterol and sodium which makes them a fantastic choice for your diet. They contain selenium which detoxifies the body (particularly the liver) of cancer causing compounds as well as preventing inflammation and tumor growth. Selenium is also known to increase the level of T cells and boosts the body’s immune system. Mushrooms are also known to have high levels of vitamin D which regulates the cell growth cycle and decreases the growth of cancer cells. Potassium in mushrooms helps to maintain a healthy heart by maintaining a healthy blood pressure and the fiber helps to regulate blood sugar and insulin in diabetics but also helps to maintain weight loss as it is a “bulking agent”.
Nutrients: Contains vitamins A, B, D, E and K as well as choline, calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, zinc, and phosphorus. About ½ cup of raw mushrooms is only 9 calories.
How to store them: When selecting mushrooms at the store or farmers market be sure to pick ones that are firm and have a bright, even color. Avoid those that are soft, floppy or damaged. Store them unwashed and covered with a damp towel (not in plastic) in the fridge for up to three days.