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You Want Me to Eat a Fungus?

written by Marsha Seidelman, M.D.
on Tuesday, 1st March ,2016

Mushrooms, technically speaking, are the fleshy, fruiting body of a fungus. Not so enticing so far, right? But, they are quite versatile. Some have a meaty texture and can be added to dishes to reduce or eliminate meat and calories, assuming you have another source of protein. One cup of raw sliced mushrooms has only about 20 calories.

As with other vegetables, they are rich in vitamins and minerals. Unlike some others, however, cooking them releases the nutrients, improving their availability. They are rich in potassium, and some B vitamins, as well as varying levels of vitamin D. Interestingly, the level of vitamin D contained in them can be increased by exposure to natural sunlight or UV light even after they are harvested.

Mushrooms impart a fifth taste sense - umami - which is savory or hearty. The other more familiar taste senses are salty, sweet, sour and bitter.

There are over 2000 varieties of edible mushrooms. Do NOT pick and eat mushrooms in the wild though, unless you are an expert in identifying poisonous ones. For those who pick wild mushrooms, the motto is, "When in doubt, throw it out!"  In addition to life-threatening varieties, there are over 100 that contain psilocybin, a hallucinogenic chemical that has been popular at times. People have claimed that they felt calmer and more spiritual for decades after their ‘shroom’ experience. Because of its calming effect in some, there is actually research ongoing to consider using psilocybin for stress disorders. For the time being, however, it is classified as a Schedule I substance, meaning that it has no known medicinal purpose and has high potential for abuse. (Live Science)

China is responsible for about half of the cultivated edible mushrooms produced in the world. The most common variety you’ll see at the supermarket is button mushrooms. They are mild and can be added to salads or almost any food. Crimini are similar but darker in color and have a stronger taste. Portobellos are larger and firm. They are about the size of a hamburger and can be marinated in a vinaigrette and grilled like one, as in the recipe below. Shiitakes are my new favorites. They have a different, thinner texture that enables them to take up marinade better and taste better cooked than raw. Some of the more unusual shaped ones include chanterelles, morels and oysters.

My favorite recipe in which mushrooms play a starring role is Thu's bok choy and mushroom stir fry.  Over the next week, I'll also be posting my sister-in-law's recipe for marinated portobellos that can be used in a salad or as a 'burger' and one for halibut with string beans and mushrooms, served with a cilantro pesto.  I love the taste of cilantro, but the sauce has other flavors that disguise the taste in this particular recipe.  If you're someone whose taste buds tell you cilantro tastes like soap and you're not willing to chance it, then just substitute another herb, like basil.

REFERENCES:

eatright.org - fun with fungi  

livescience.com - odd facts about magic mushrooms  

Tags: mushroom, vegetarian

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