More fun facts about mushrooms

Published 2:25 pm Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Diet and Exercise

                Last week, we learned of some amazing healthful benefits, derived from one of  the “unsung heroes of nutrition”, the mushroom. Today, I’d like to share a few more interesting mushroom facts that you might not know.

                Before we begin our list, one of our readers, Carol Ten Broek, contacted me and requested information on a mushroom she enjoys harvesting…the “chanterella”. The name “chanterella” comes from the Greek “kantharos” meaning “tankard” or “cup”, a reference to its shape. This is one of the most popular, edible mushrooms in the world. Known for its unique flavor and beautiful color and shape, chanterella mushrooms can be white, deep yellow, to almost orange in color. The cap of this mushroom is flat, then funnel shaped, with curled edges, that become lobed. Chanterellas are a rich source of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients, including vitamins A, B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B6 (pyridoxine), C, D, E,  potassium, selenium, manganese, copper, and iron, beta-carotene, and lycopene. Beware, there are mushrooms that appear to be chanterellas, but are not. The “false chanterella” (Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca) is non-toxic, but doesn’t provide the flavor of the chanterella. However, there is another chanterella imitator called the “Jack-O- Lantern” mushroom, which is poisonous, so never harvest wild mushrooms without proper education.

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             Now for our interesting mushroom facts list. Mushrooms don’t need light to grow. That’s because they’re not plants, which take up water and minerals from the soil. Their leaves absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere. Plants then convert these ingredients into sugars (their food) by using energy from sunlight, a process called photosynthesis. Since mushrooms don’t have chlorophyll, they cannot produce their own food directly from sunlight. They obtain their nutrients from metabolizing non living organic material.  

 Button, cremini, and portobello mushrooms are literally the same type of mushroom. They are all “Agaricus bisporus”. Button (white) mushrooms are the “toddlers”, cremini (brown) mushrooms appear as teenagers, and portobello (also brown) mushrooms are much larger versions of the younger ones, and emerge as the adults. These mushrooms account for 90 percent of all annual mushroom production in the United States, making them an almost billion dollar industry. Pennsylvania cultivates nearly half of the mushrooms produced in the USA. California and Florida rank second, and third in mushroom production. The average American consumes about 2 pounds of mushrooms, annually. 

I love to cook, and my girlfriend Kris and I both adore mushrooms, so I fix them often. Did you know that you can’t “overcook” a mushroom? Of course, you could scorch or burn one, but regardless of the length of time you cook a mushroom, its textural integrity will remain intact. That’s because a mushroom’s cell walls contain a polymer (a large molecular structure) called chitin, and unlike the proteins in meats and the pectin in vegetables, chitin is very heat stable. Raw meat is essentially an assortment of proteins, fats, and liquid. When meat is overcooked, the fat and liquid are rendered away, leaving the muscle fibers tough. Overcooking fruits and vegetables breaks down pectin, (a unique fiber, found in plants), causing texture, flavor, and nutrient content to deteriorate. 

There is a category of mushroom found throughout the world, called “laetiporus”, commonly known as “sulfur shelf,” but  also referred to as “chicken of the woods,” the “chicken mushroom” and “the chicken fungus”, because it actually tastes like fried chicken. 

Believe it or not, the largest organism on the planet is a mushroom. The next time you purchase mushrooms, remember that those bite-sized morsels  have a relative out west that occupies some 2,384 acres in Malheur National Forest, located within Oregon’s Blue Mountains. That would encompass 1,665 football fields, or nearly 4 square miles. This “ground mushroom” is estimated to be 2,400 years old, but could be as ancient as 8,650 years of age, placing it among the world’s oldest living organisms. 

There are more than 75 fungal (mushroom) species that actually “glow” in the dark. That is thanks to a chemical reaction between luciferin (an organic substance, present in luminescent organisms) and molecular oxygen. This is the same amazing trick fireflies use to illuminate their backsides during summer evenings, and this process is used for basically the same purpose in both cases. Whereas fireflies light up to attract mates, mushrooms glow to attract insects that will help them spread their spores. This phenomenon is referred to as “foxfire”, and it occurs mostly amid fungi growing on decaying wood. 

The “truffle” is the rarest mushroom in the world. Brought to fame and fortune by Italy and France, this precious mushroom can actually be found all over  the world, and has 40 different types. They are some of the most expensive foods in the world. Truffles are laborious to cultivate, so female pigs have been traditionally used to hunt truffles. This is because female pigs have an excellent sense of smell, and are beckoned to the truffle as it contains androstenol, a sex hormone found in the saliva of male pigs. Dogs are also used to hunt truffles. Commercially, white truffles sell for about $4,500-$7,000 per kilogram (2.2 pounds). The largest truffle in the world weighed 4.61 pounds, and sold for $61,000 at Sotheby’s auction in New York.

           Registration for free nutrition and fitness consultations with me will go through December. Just contact me via email. Thanks to those who’ve signed up. 

David Crocker is a nutritionist and master personal trainer. Questions? Email David at dwcrocker77@gmail.com