What’s in Season: Mushrooms
With winter winding down and spring sprouting up the path, we find ourselves in that very grey period where we are so close to local fresh produce but we still have some winter stores to get through. With that, we are going to celebrate one of our final season-less foods, mushrooms! (They can sometimes be a little grey too.)
A Veiled Vegetable
While often considered a vegetable, mushrooms are really a fungus. They grow wild all over the world in warm, moist environments. For thousands of years humans ate wild mushrooms, until about 2000 years ago when it is said that the Japanese started to cultivate them, beginning with the Shiitake mushroom. Since then, 25 varieties have come to be cultivated, with the rest left to be wild as they are not very tasty, or can be toxic.
In Canada, we grow 7 varieties of mushrooms over the span of 100 farms in the country, most of which you have probably come across at your local market. 50% of those mushrooms come straight from Ontario. In 2013 alone, over 100 million pounds of mushrooms were produced.
From the Dirt and Dust…
Cultivated mushrooms are not grown the same way other foods or even other mushrooms are. In Canada, mushroom farming is more a science than anything else. Special manures made from organic products such as hay, cocoa beans, and peat moss are implanted with a mushroom spawn that is created in a sterile laboratory. The spawns are allowed to grow in contained environments and take about 30 days for the first crop to appear. Once the mushrooms have been harvested and the manure is exhausted, it is recycled for other farming practices. This is why mushrooms are grown all year long even in our cold climate, they live in a manipulated environment!
Specially Grown, Especially Nutritious
Mushrooms have a lot going for them when it comes to nutrition!
- They are low in calories, with half a cup of Shiitake mushrooms having only 43 calories!
- Half a cup (77g) of cooked Shiitake mushrooms provides up to 42% of the estimated average requirement of selenium for men and 34% for women. Selenium is needed to regulate thyroid hormone, which regulates protein, fat, and carbohydrate metabolism among other roles
- Portobellos can provide up to 33% of the estimated average requirement of Niacin for men and 36% for women, which is important for the production of steroids in the body, along with other roles.
- Mushrooms provide both soluble and insoluble fiber, which are needed for healthy digestive processes
A Case of Vitamin D
Did you know that mushrooms are the only “vegetable” that contain vitamin D? It’s true! Vitamin D, which is essential for proper bone growth and the uptake of calcium in the body, occurs naturally in mushrooms. Some farmers have even taken to growing their mushrooms under ultraviolet lighting to increase the levels of vitamin D.
So for anyone looking to give a little bump to their vitamin D intake, why not try adding mushrooms to your everyday diet. You can increase your vitamin D, selenium, niacin and a whole lot more without really increasing your calories, fat, or carbohydrates. Just be sure to avoid adding excess salt or fat during cooking, sometimes plain raw food is all you need (but not all the time).
Mushrooms in Pop Culture
According to Wikipedia, “mushroom power-ups appear in almost every Super Mario game. The most iconic of these is the Super Mushroom, similar in appearance to the Amanita muscaria, with an ivory stalk below a most commonly red and white (originally red and orange) spotted cap. Created by chance, Shigeru Miyamoto stated in an interview that beta tests of Super Mario Bros. proved Mario too tall, so the development team implemented mushrooms to grow and shrink Mario.”
Morel Mushrooms in the Yukon
In the spring of 2014, hundreds of mushroom pickers descended on the Carmacks in Canada’s Yukon, to harvest morel mushrooms. These delicacies are prized by chefs and gourmands and sold at a high premium. The CBC estimated about $3-$4 million worth of morels that will be trucked to Whitehorse, then flown to Vancouver and beyond.
Here’s a recipe to try out the next time you want something tasty and nutritious:
Balsamic Mushroom Crostini
2 tbsp (30 mL) olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 cups (1.5 L) sliced mushrooms, (1 lb/500g)
1/2 tsp (2 mL) herbs de Provence
1/4 tsp (1 mL) salt
1/4 tsp (1 mL) pepper
1/4 cup (60 mL) chopped fresh parsley
3 tbsp (45 mL) balsamic vinegar
1 tsp (5 mL) Dijon mustard
1/4 cup (60 mL) shaved Asiago cheese
In large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat; cook garlic, mushrooms, herbs de Provence, salt and pepper, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes or until browned and moisture is evaporated. Remove from heat; stir in parsley, vinegar and mustard. (Make-ahead: Refrigerate in airtight container for up to 8 hours; let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before continuing.) Spoon onto prepared toasts. Sprinkle with Asiago.
So try to enjoy some little grey fungi during this grey period as we send-off winter and welcome spring!
Ryerson Eats Nutrition Intern
Big thanks to the Greenbelt Fund for their support of this program!