Chefs love mushrooms. Especially Fiji’s new harvest of fresh Asian mushrooms. They are beautiful to the eye and easily adapt to a wide range of cuisines, but most importantly, mushrooms behave in the kitchen much the same way that meats do. They change their character in response to different cooking techniques and they express different qualities depending on the ingredients with which they are paired. There is sound science behind these effects. Mushrooms are not vegetables. They are fungi and their biochemical structure has more in common with animals in some ways than with vegetables. Mushrooms have a broad range of amino acids, as animal proteins do, and this provides them with savoury flavour. They are high in glutamic acid, an amino acid that is naturally occurring in glutamates and acts as a flavour enhancer. Mushrooms are also rich in nucleotides, compounds that are synergistic with glutamates. Together, these characteristics make up umami, the savoury flavour component that is now widely accepted as the fifth taste sensor along with salty, bitter, sweet, and sour. Up until recently, the only mushrooms you would get in a Fiji came from a tin, rehydrated from a packet or imported from a farm somewhere in Australia or New Zealand. The common button mushroom needs a colder, damp climate and costs upwards of $80-90 per kilo, but Asian mushroom varieties like oyster, enoki and shiitake, can be grown in plastic jars or containers filled with grass or other fibrous substrates – no soil needed. Asian mushrooms are especially good for our health; a fact steeped in Chinese traditional medicine. They have anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiviral, and immune-enhancing properties, in similar ways to virgin coconut oil, but ‘shrooms are definitely tastier. Two farms, the Chinese Legalega Research Station at Legalega, Nadi, and the local family-run Bula Mushrooms in Suva of Vinit and his wife Chaya, have successfully cultivated several varieties of the potent Asian mushrooms; and they are divine. Winston knocked these two farms out for a while but they have both announced on social media that their first harvests have come – and gone. Each fungi variety has different medicinal properties, as if Mother Nature intended them as a pharmacy of health remedies. They are meaty and flavorful, and also contain a substance called eritadenine, which encourages the absorption of cholesterol, thereby lowering the amount circulating in the blood. Along with the B-vitamins and minerals that all mushrooms contain, the shiitake contains all eight amino acids, unusual for a plant. Shiitake have a distinct strong flavor, which if you find too strong, can be tempered with soy, mirin and sugar marinade before cooking. With a name sounding very similar to a Fijian male, Inoke, enoki mushrooms are quite different from shiitake mushrooms in appearance and flavor. These long, white mushrooms have a very mild flavor and are believed to be good for fighting the effects of cancer treatments like chemotherapy, and are said to be especially effective for those fighting prostate cancer and lymphoma. They are also apparently good for enhancing the immune system by detoxifying the body. On top of all these benefits, enoki mushrooms are also a great source of iron and when not overcooked, look fantastic on the dinner plate as a tiny fungi forest. Of all the Asian mushrooms commonly eaten, oyster
mushrooms stand out as exceptional allies for improving human health and an ideal alternative to meat. These mushrooms enjoy a terrific reputation as the easiest to cultivate, richly nutritious and medicinally supportive. Their name comes from their look, not taste and they also come in different shapes and sizes. Not only are they low in calories, but also fat-free, cholesterol-free, gluten-free and very low in sodium. They are also high in protein, fibre and iron, and contain significant levels of zinc, potassium, selenium, calcium, phosphorus, folic acid, and vitamins B1, B3, B5 and B12, plus vitamin C and vitamin D. They need very little cooking time and can be added to stir fry, grilled for salads or thrown into a curry at the very last moment. These ‘magic mushrooms’ are not for partying, they are a medicinal gift from Mother Nature. The reintroduction of fresh Asian mushrooms to Fiji not only gives the chefs another local ingredient to add to their menus, but has given Fijians a tasty weapon in the fight against non-communicable diseases and also helps to a reduced import bill. You won’t always find these magic mushrooms at shops or markets so make contact with the farmers directly on Facebook and put your name down for the next harvest. If you miss out, you can replace today’s recipes with tinned or rehydrated mushrooms, but nothing beats the taste, texture and medicinal value of fresh Asian mushrooms. So get in quick!
Who can resist a brown mushroom, chive and pasta dish
Cultivated mushroom tart with goats cheese - medicine in a meal
Something as simple as mushrooms on toast is just divine
Duruka pairs well with oyster mushrooms poached in fresh coconut milk
Miso-braised eggplant with shimeji mushrooms