The wide world of mushrooms is incredibly diverse, ranging from the deadly to the hallucinogenic to the incredibly expensive culinary varieties. Tens of thousands of mushroom varieties exist, with only a small percentage fit for cooking. Mushrooms can be commercially cultivated or wild foraged, with the latter becoming a hot food trend in recent years.
Humans have been consuming mushrooms for a very long time, with the first evidence dating back to several hundred years BC in China, where they are commonly used for medicinal purposes and also for cooking. They are beloved for their umami factor (or “delicious taste”, loosely translated from Japanese) because they deliver a pleasing depth of flavor found only in a certain foods, including fish, meat, tomatoes, and kombu, which is an edible kelp commonly used to make broths. For this reason, they are often a favorite ingredient in vegetarian and vegan cooking (think portobello burgers) because they add a yummy dimension of flavor commonly found in meat-based dishes.
Mushrooms are marvelous for adding rich flavors to your recipes without adding a large amount of calories or fat. In a 100-gram serving, you get only 38 calories and 0.5 grams of fat, plus a whopping 52% of your recommended intake of vitamin D. In fact, mushrooms are the only fruit or vegetable source of this essential vitamin! Mushrooms are also a great source of iron, dietary fiber and potassium. In addition, studies have shown that mushrooms may boost immune function, support healthy bladder function, and lower your risk of disease.
You can add the “delicious taste” of mushrooms to many dishes. Different mushroom varieties have different flavors and textures, so be sure to choose the right ones for your recipe. Eat white button mushrooms raw with your favorite veggie dip, fry up some brown creminis with onions for a classic burger or steak topper, stuff medium-sized ones for bite-sized cocktail party pleasers (or big ones like portobellos for a hearty main course), top your pizza with a few different varieties… the list goes on and on. Their flavor also enhances soups of all kinds, from the classic cream of mushroom to spicy and sour Thai soups. Mushrooms are a major player in Chinese cuisine, with stir-fry recipes often calling for a mix of mushrooms from shiitake and enoki to morel and king oyster.
Most of us have experienced the button mushroom, but delicious mushrooms of all kinds are available in most grocery stores, with the rarest and most expensive often reserved for the specialty shops. The famously decadent truffle mushroom, for example, sells for as much as $2,000 per pound. Its flavor is also quite rich, so it’s often considered an acquired taste. Truffle infused oils or popcorn seasonings are a good way to get in on this delicacy at the entry level without having to blow your entire grocery budget.
Start exploring the wide world of mushrooms and add a little more “delicious taste” to your life.
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