This past year has underscored the importance of microbes in our lives, for better and for worse. These days, the lowly mushroom is emerging as the next big thing and is finally being embraced as a cornerstone of our gradual shift to sustainability and regenerative agriculture. Fungi are being tested for use as packaging, building materials, faux leather, medical innovations, alternative plant-based ‘meat,’ and even to degrade used diapers. Even more interesting is the science of mycoremediation, which harnesses the power of fungi to eliminate the environment of toxic substances like plastics, oil spills, pesticides, and dangerous bacteria like E. coli. Some cultures have enjoyed an almost spiritual reverence for the mushroom and the practice of Traditional Chinese medicine has incorporated medicinal mushrooms for thousands of years, yet until recently many of its medicinal benefits went largely unknown here. Americans were more likely to associate fungi with death and decay, or for their psychedelic properties. Today the mushroom is being celebrated by foragers, vegetarians, scientists, and health and wellness influencers promoting the benefits of mushroom coffee on social media.
Nutrition: Here’s what you need to know
Mushrooms, mushroom supplements, extracts, and adaptogens are very on-trend. Keep in mind that many supplements and medicinal mushrooms have not been evaluated for safe consumption.But whole-food mushrooms are considered a nutraceutical food because of their bioactive compounds. Scientists are still researching the mushroom, but they are commonly thought to be rich in vitamins, polyphenols, polysaccharides, peptides, lipids, tocopherols, and other bioactive compounds that promote good health.
Mushrooms are often eaten as a ‘meat replacer’ due to their amino acid structure. Mushrooms are also thought to provide over 100 beneficial medicinal applications that protect us against cancer, diabetes, allergies, viruses and bacteria, parasites, fungal infections.They are a good source of minerals like selenium, copper, zinc, riboflavin, and potassium, which remain relatively stable during storage and the cooking process.Mushrooms contain all nine essential amino acids, as well as vitamins C, E, protein, fiber and, are low in fat. USDA FoodData Central
Exposing mushrooms to 15-120 minutes of midday sunlight increases their bioavailable Vitamin D content, although some studies show that the vitamin D content begins to gradually degrade after the first 24 hours.
Always check with your dietitian or doctor first before increasing your intake of mushrooms.People with digestive, kidney, or celiac issues should consult with their doctor first. Chaga mushrooms are high in oxalates which might promote kidney stones. Shiitake mushrooms may cause various severe allergic reactions and adverse blood conditions.
Food Safety: Here’s What You Need to Know
Although mushrooms are a fungus, most of the various recalls for whole fresh and dried mushrooms last year were due to dangerous bacteria, like salmonella, listeria, E. coli, and botulism. Mushrooms are a whole food that offers multiple nutrients to support your body’s daily needs, and like all foods, it is important to follow certain guidelines when purchasing, handling, cooking, and storing mushrooms. Many of these bacterial pathogens may come from contaminated water, pesticides, pests, or chemicals during the production, harvesting and distribution, at the point of sale, and while handling fresh mushrooms in a restaurant or home kitchen. Even more concerning is that some of these bacterial pathogens, like botulism (clostridium botulinum)thrive without oxygen and survive even high cooking temperatures (check). Even semi-permeable packaging can contribute to the growth of this botulism.
Last year, according to the CDC, dozens of dozens of outbreaks due to bacterial pathogens found in mushrooms occurred across the country, in multiple states, including New Jersey. Also concerning is that many USDA approved mushrooms that are being sold in the United States with a local label because they are harvested in the United States but grown abroad, making inspection more difficult.
Many home cooks think that raw meat and fish, eggs and mayonnaise are the primary culprits of most food poisoning, but even vegetables, including mushrooms, pose a high risk for bacterial contamination.
When purchasing fresh mushrooms, make sure they have been handled properly. Select mushrooms that are firm and not bruised or have other visual or aromatic cues of spoilage. They should be sold in porous containers that have holes that allow airflow in order to prevent harmful bacteria to grow.
Once you purchase the mushrooms and bring them home, try to eat them as soon as possible.
Bacteria thrive in moisture so do not wash the mushrooms before storing them.
Carefully store them in a paper, not plastic, bag and keep it in the refrigerator until needed, for up to 3-5 days.
Do not store raw mushrooms unrefrigerated or in airtight containers.
To avoid cross-contamination, wash all utensils, cutting boards, or any surfaces that come in contact with mushrooms before and after handling.
Clean mushrooms with a brush or a damp paper towel. If the gills of the mushroom show signs of spoilage, discard the mushroom or scoop the gills out with a spoon if the stem and button are firm and show no signs of spoilage. If you prefer to rinse the surface of the mushroom, rinse them gently and only immediately before preparation.
If you want to freeze them, make sure to cook them first by steaming or sauteing and then store them in afreezer bag for up to six months.
Dried mushrooms should always be prepared in boiling water to eliminate pathogens.
For up-to-date information about recalls and outbreaks, check out the Department of Health & Human Services foodkeeper-app, Keep Food Safe
If you are an amateur forager or go foraging with one, do not eat the wild mushrooms you bring back with you. Even edible wild mushrooms growing next to poisonous wild mushrooms can pose a risk. And although some poisonous mushrooms only cause gastrointestinal distress, others can kill you. When dining in a restaurant that serves wild mushrooms always verify the source. And always check for recalls yourself, rather than relying on restaurants alone to properly source the mushrooms.