February 17, 2021
Perhaps you’ve seen or heard about the popular 2019 documentary Fantastic Fungi. Or you’ve seen the beautiful display of exotic-looking mushrooms on a recent trip to the local farmers market.
Whether you know it or not, mushroom consumption has grown rapidly in the U.S. and is well-poised for continued growth as consumers become more health-conscious and seek alternatives to meat.
What’s the big deal about mushrooms anyways? We think you’ll be surprised.
Porcini, Cremini, Morel, Oh My!
Mushrooms are loaded with nutrients and other phytochemicals that make them a healthy choice for our diet. Most consumers are familiar with white button or portobello mushrooms, but there are literally hundreds of different edible species. Fine food connoisseurs enjoy more intensely flavored mushrooms, like porcini, chanterelle, cremini, shiitake, morel, trumpet and hen. While these delicacies are delectable sautéed into sauces, chopped into various recipes, or battered and fried, they also help maintain strong immunity in the consumer.
Mushrooms: So Good For You
Mushrooms are a rich source of protein, fiber, antioxidants, and important trace minerals (like selenium) and multiple vitamins. In fact, mushrooms exposed to ultraviolet light for a few days prior to harvesting have appreciable levels of vitamin D—the only vegetable to make that claim. Technically, mushrooms are fungi, but many of us consider them as a vegetable in our diet.
Mushrooms are high in an easily-digestible protein that closely resembles the egg white protein ovalbumin. All nine essential amino acids to sustain human life are present in mushroom protein. To supply energy to busy individuals, mushroom protein also contains high levels of branched-chain amino acids, comparable to animal-derived proteins. Also, mushroom’s are very high in chitin. Besides fungi, chitin is only found in crustacean shells and insect bodies, but when consumed, this insoluble fiber source is an important prebiotic and beneficial for a healthy intestinal tract.
Chock Full of Medicinal Antioxidants
Perhaps, mushrooms’ most beneficial properties are the high levels of the antioxidants ergothioneine and glutathione. In recent years, antioxidants have been reported to have medicinal roles in slowing aging, reducing inflammation, improving cognitive function and improving overall immunity. While cooking mushrooms does not appear to damage these two antioxidants, food scientists have found ways to concentrate these compounds to increase them in our diet.
Mushroom Powders, Teas & Tinctures
Mushroom powders are commonly sold at natural and whole food stores. These powders are being incorporated into more food formulations, but the consumer can also make a tea to enjoy the healthy benefits of mushrooms. Herbal pharmacists have also marketed tinctures of various mushrooms. In these tinctures, mushrooms like chaga, lion’s mane, maitake, and reishi are commonly used singly or in combination. Most consumers use just a couple of drops a day in their morning coffee or other beverage to provide a boost of energy as well as other reported medicinal benefits.
NCFIL: Here to Help
The NC Food Innovation Lab is currently working with two local mushroom farmers, Saxapahaw-based Haw River Mushrooms and Alleghany County’s Growing for Good, helping their teams with business analysis, product development and process improvement.
Do you have an innovative idea about mushrooms or another fungi, fruit or vegetable? You can work with NCFIL to pursue your plant-based food concepts.