THE MAGIC OF MUSHROOMS Enjoy a myriad of flavour and health benefits.
Adding mushrooms to your menu can provide a myriad of avour and health bene ts, says Jen Shaw
The humble mushroom has a longstanding history in our folklore. We probably all remember the fairytale image of a toadstool mushroom in our favourite childhood story or nursery rhyme. These mystical characteristics are increasingly relevant; as scienti c studies reveal more about fungi and we ride the latest trend for adding mushrooms to everything from co ee to beauty products, the untapped potential power of mushrooms is mythical in its scale.
A Japanese study (published in the Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology) found links between eating shiitake mushrooms and lower blood pressure, and shiitake also contain lentinan, a sugar molecule believed to enhance the immune system. Last year, researchers at Pennsylvania State University tested 13 varieties of mushroom and found that they all contained high levels of anti-ageing antioxidants, in particular wild porcini.
Of course, eating and using mushrooms to support wellness isn’t a new thing. Traditional Chinese medicine has long used mushrooms for medicinal purposes, but it’s only recently that the Western world has begun to wake up to the power of fungi, upgrading mushrooms from a Sunday brunch side dish to prominence on the plate.
Mushrooms are also an increasingly-used ingredient in our cooking due to their avourenhancing properties, thanks to high levels
of glutamate a type of amino acid linked to umami (the fth taste after sweet, salt, sour and bitter). They’ve become the star of the show, too, as vegetarian and vegan options become more popular. Mushrooms have an incredibly versatile avour, and can give an almost meaty texture for those searching for a substitute in plant-based recipes.
For chef and author Rachel de Thample, the way in which mushrooms grow is key to understanding the wellbeing bene ts that they o er. “Mushrooms are fascinating, ecologically -speaking, especially for someone like me who is interested in organic farming and soil health,” she says. “The part of the mushroom that we eat are spores that rise from underground networks of mycelium [the thread-like vegetative structure of fungi]. If you think of mushrooms as being like apples, they are the ‘fruit’ and these incredible underground networks of mycelium can be likened to the ‘tree’.
“To reproduce, mushroom spores need to attach to a nutritious source because they have no chlorophyll to help them make food. That doesn’t mean that mushrooms suck the life out of other plants, however. It’s actually quite the opposite; most mushrooms have a symbiotic relationship with other plants, giving them the nutrients they need to help produce the sugars the mushroom feeds o . They help each other to grow and receive the best nutrients they can get.”
It is this relationship that gives mushrooms the varied nutrients that we can bene t from, from vitamin D to antioxidants. “Certain mushrooms are also known as adaptogens,” says food blogger Eli Brecher, who describes mushrooms as being healing plants. “These can help the body to adapt to stress, ght in ammation, boost the immune system, counteract fatigue, regulate hormones and basically bring it all back into balance.”
Read on for ways to bring more mushrooms into your everyday cooking, so you too can reap the bene ts of their natural magic.