Thursday, August 15, 2013

Mushrooms


         A mushroom is neither a fruit, nor a vegetable 


I know some of my readers are snickering right now thinking this is an article about magic mushrooms. Sorry not this time. However let me say this, all mushrooms are kinda magical.
Technically mushrooms aren't even plants. The most interesting thing about mushrooms and members of the fungi kingdom, is that they are closer to animals in their characteristics than to plants. Just like humans, mushrooms take in oxygen for digestion and metabolism and exhale carbon dioxide as waste product. Interestingly, mushrooms continue to grown, even after they are cultivated. A little history:
 
Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics showed that mushrooms were thought to bring immortality and that only the pharaohs, who were thought of as godlike, could receive this privilege. Commoners, therefore, were not even allowed to touch mushrooms. Since mushrooms in ancient times were not cultivated but only gathered in the wild, the gatherers probably ate their share on the sly. Some ancient cultures believed that eating mushrooms could endow them with super-human strength. This belief was prevalent in Russia, China, Greece, Mexico, and Latin America. Some beliefs concluded that partaking of mushrooms could lead the soul to reside with the gods. Mushrooms grow upward with such surprising strength, that they push up cement stones. Some cultures believed that eating mushrooms could give them clairvoyance in locating lost objects. Mushrooms were known to be such a powerful aphrodisiac that they became infused into important ancient rituals and ceremonies. The Normans, during the 11th century traditionally prepared a wedding dish that contained a pound of mushrooms to be fed to the groom only. Some scholars believe that the dung mushrooms powered the fierce Norsemen known as berserkers who worked themselves into a frenzy before battle.
 
Mushrooms are different from other plants. They have no roots, stems or leaves. They grow by feeding off other non- living organic matter. The main part of the mushroom is hidden from view. It is called the mycelium. It consists of tiny branches called hyphae. Mushrooms develop differently than plants or animal do. Plants and animal grow through cell division. In order to get bigger, they have to produce more cells. The mushroom, increases in size through cell enlargement. This means that the cell can balloon up very rapidly. Very little energy is required for this type of growth. Basically the cells just enlarge with water. So, a mushroom can increase in size as fast as water can be pumped into its cells. Almost overnight, a mushroom can go from a pin head to a large mushroom.

Mushrooms have been used medicinally by many cultures. Even Hippocrates prescribed them for healing. While some of their proposed healing abilities are strictly folklore, recent medical studies, have been recognizing some genuine healing properties. Asians have known for many years that shiitake mushrooms have medicinal powers with the ability to lower cholesterol and blood pressure, boost the immune system and inhibit tumor growth. Dr. Lana Zivanovic, a researcher in the Department of Food Science and Technology at the University of Tennessee, said that mushrooms contained high amounts of beta-glucans, compounds that guard against disease. Dr. Shiuan Chen, director of surgical research at the Beckman Research Institute in California, says that mushrooms are rich in cancer-fighting substances. Dr. Chen claims that lab experiments have found mushroom cells contain mechanisms that suppress breast and prostate cancer cells. Mushrooms also contain an antioxidant called ergothioneine, which contributes to immune support and protection of the eyes, skin, liver, kidneys, and bone marrow. Dr. Robert Beelman from the Department of Food Science at Pennsylvania State University said that white button mushrooms have more protein, potassium, copper, and selenium than oyster or shitake mushrooms. In addition to being antioxidant powerhouses, mushrooms contain unique compounds that appear to boost your immune defense. The immune boosting compounds in mushrooms don't appear to be affected by drying so you can get the same benefit from dried and powdered mushrooms as you do from fresh.

The various kinds of mushrooms all have different flavors, shapes, and texture. Although the nutrient profiles vary from type to type, most mushrooms are good sources of B vitamins, selenium, iron, and other minerals. Mushrooms are also good at neutralizing free radicals, those renegade molecules that are always up to no good. In fact, you might be surprised like I was to learn that when it comes to antioxidant power, the plain old white button mushroom beats out even colorful veggies like green peppers, carrots, green beans, and tomatoes. Best of all, mushrooms contain antioxidants that are not deactivated or destroyed by cooking. Although mushrooms are not necessarily high in vitamin D, they have a very neat trick, when mushrooms are exposed to UV light, they produce vitamin D. Of course, your skin can do the same thing. Exposing your skin to excessive UV rays can unfortunately also cause skin cancer and premature aging of the skin. So let mushrooms take the heat for you. You can boost the vitamin D content of mushrooms by putting them on a sunny windowsill.

The Morel along with truffels are just a couple of the more elete sought after mushrooms on the planet. There are morel hunting clubs all across the country. I personally have never prepared, or even eaten, to my knowledge, a morel mushroom. I have added it to my "to-do" list though. I may have to wait until next year, as the season is very brief and the mushrooms are best enjoyed wild as opposed to farm grown, so I've read. If you do happen to come across a nice batch of fresh morels, they are said to be delicious, dipped in egg, dredged in flour and simply fried in olive oil and garlic. They run about $25-35.00 per. lb. So if you are so inclined to give them a try you may want to look up a local hunting club and go on the next spring hunt.
 

NEVER go on your own without an experienced hunter to help identify your mushrooms until you become well versed in their identification. Since many varieties of poisonous mushrooms closely resemble edible ones, even the common button mushroom has a poisonous cousin that appears harmless. Of the many thousands of mushroom species existing today, only a few are known to possess a deadly poison. Many, however, are easily capable of making you very sick.
 

Truffles, are fungi that grow underground in wooded areas. They have never been successfully cultivated and are even a challenge to forage in the wild. Dogs or pigs are specially trained to recognize the scent of the truffle and are taken on gathering events to sniff them out. The shape of a truffle is an irregular spheroid with a lumpy surface, often described as warty, the texture fleshy. Black truffles from France, known as Perigord, are best known for flavoring pate de foie gras. White truffles gathered in Alba, Italy, are highly valued as well. Both are priced well out of the average person's budget. If you are fortunate enough to encounter the real thing, you can enjoy it raw, cooked, and in the form of juice or extract.

So, there you have it a brief look into the world of mushrooms there are so many recipes and foods to add mushrooms to, it's mind boggling. From salads, to burgers, casseroles, dips, and I couldn't imagine a pizza or kabob without them. They are tasty and super healthy, just stick with the ones from the farmers market until your identifying skills are honed. Good Luck...






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