Mushrooms are having a moment. For the fourth year in a row, mushrooms were named a top trend by industry analysts, and the New York Times named mushrooms both “Ingredient of the Year” for 2022 and an essential food for the plant-based movement — another top food trend.
the Wall Street Journal has dubbed the phenomenon “mushroom mania,” and, spoiler alert, in both Sonic the Hedgehog other Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Jim Carrey’s character, Dr. Robotnik, lives on a mushroom-covered planet. Mushrooms even made their way into holiday decor in 2021, trending because of their rumored relationship to Santa Claus lore.
White button, cremini (also known as baby portobello) and portobello mushrooms have long been supermarket staples. Buttons and creminis are typically sauteed or stuffed, while portobellos are most often marinated, grilled and layered into sandwiches or served as “burgers” for vegetarians.
But both casual diners and home cooks are becoming increasingly interested in other varieties, once reserved for five-star restaurants. Colorful clusters of oyster, umami-filled lobster, delicate hen of the woods, meaty trumpet, silky enoki and hearty lion’s mane mushrooms are getting play on restaurant menus and can be found in many grocery store produce sections.
Pam Smith, a registered dietician nutritionist, is president and founder of Shaping America’s Plate, and spokesperson for the Mushroom Council, an industry organization dedicated to strengthening the mushroom’s position in the marketplace.
“Mushrooms are having more than a moment — they’re having a movement,” Smith tells Yahoo Life. “The umami of mushrooms blends with other ingredients to make menu items more flavorful, juicier and ‘meatier.’ They are one of the planet’s best flavor-lifters.”
Why mushrooms? Why now?
Smith says there’s a convergence of factors exponentially increasing interest in mushrooms: their plant-forward innovation potential, nutritional profile, role in supporting the immune system and impact as a sustainable food source to name a few.
Anne-Marie Roerink is founder of 210 Analytics, a market research company that provides comprehensive food industry insight analyses. “Mushrooms’ growth in popularity and expanded interest in different varieties is actually following a classic path of a food ‘trending up,'” says Roerink. “First, you have more people buying the product, which happened a lot during the pandemic. Next, you have people buying it more often. That then translates into people experimenting with different varieties.”
She points out the plant-forward movement is playing a big part in mushrooms’ popularity as well. Her 2022 study, “The Power of Meat,” showed that one in six people eat a flexitarian diet, meaning they still want to eat meat and poultry, but a little less of it than usual. Diced mushrooms can be blended with ground meats to stretch protein and both increase umami flavor and add juiciness, not to mention decrease the amount of animal-based protein (a main source of saturated fats, which cause heart disease) in our diets.
The James Beard Foundation’s Blended Burger Project has challenged chefs around the country for the last four years to create burgers incorporating at least 25% fresh mushrooms into their menu to increase sustainability and offer more plant-forward options for diners.
One of 2019’s five winners, Burger Shack at the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua, in Maui, Hawaii, was inspired by the island’s local flavors, blending 70% grass-fed Maui beef with 30% smoked ali’i mushrooms on a toasted brioche bun with watercress, pickled shimeji mushrooms, red onion, carrot salad, cheese and kimchi ketchup.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic has placed plenty of emphasis on building healthy immune systems, mushrooms have also come to the fore as a natural way to do so. Mushrooms are anti-inflammatory, which allows antibodies, which fight infection, to work more effectively.
Grow your own
Interest in mushroom cultivation is also growing. Sterling College in Craftsbury Common, Vt., recently introduced a five-day summer workshop on the identification, ecology and farming of mushrooms.
Laura Spence, dean of academics and faculty in ecology at Sterling, says of the program, “The interest in mushroom cultivation, food and medicinal properties has certainly been growing in recent years.”
“Mushrooms have always been an important part of the plant-based diet,” she adds, “but there has been a growing awareness in the scientific community during the past 20 to 30 years.”
But you don’t have to be a trained mushroom farmer to grow mushrooms for your own table. At-home grow kits have seen massive increases in sales since the start of the pandemic, when other home cooking food trends, like making sourdough breads, took hold.
Companies like Nearby Naturals, based in Orlando, Fla., owned by husband-and-wife Sam and Soraya Turner and Sam’s brother Alex Turner, offer subscription grow kits that send monthly boxes of mushroom substrate — the material that mushrooms grow on — along with instructions to grow your own blue oyster, pioppino, lion’s mane and other exciting and edible varieties. Each grow kit can yield up to four harvests.
So many species, so many ways to cook
There are thousands of varieties of edible mushrooms (the exact number eludes researchers), and with the myriad varieties comes thousands of ways to cook them at home. Here are some favorite ideas from chefs who love these fabulous fungi for cooking the more interesting varieties in your grocery store’s produce aisle.
Oyster mushrooms grow in clusters and are easy to grow at home. Break apart clusters and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Then roast them at 425 F until they’re slightly browned.
Bright orange with a seafood-like flavor, lobster mushrooms are delicious sliced and sauteed in garlic and butter, sprinkled with parsley and served on a hoagie roll like a classic lobster roll.
These giant white mushrooms look like a coral you’d see on the ocean floor, but have incredible medicinal and health benefits, especially for mental health, immunity and reduction of heart disease risk. Lion’s mane is an excellent meat substitute, since it’s dense and hearty. It’s great sliced into “steaks” and grilled or roasted.
Thin, delicate and mild, enoki mushrooms are both cute and tasty. Add them to stir-fries, sauces and soups at the last minute for texture and substance.
Slice these thick-stemmed small-capped mushrooms into “fries” lengthwise. Batter and fry them, roast until lightly browned with salt and pepper or bread them with a three-step flour, egg and panko breadcrumb mixture and air fry. Serve with your favorite dipping sauce.
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