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July Super Food: Mushrooms

Updated: Jul 22


I've been told I'm a fun guy. That's why I wanted to talk about fungi for my birthday month superfood! Specifically, mushrooms. A staple in nearly every cuisine, mushrooms are a cheap and nutritious ingredient or a topping to some altogether not-so-healthy foods. So let's take a look at why they deserve the title of superfood.

 

Mushrooms: A History

If we're talking about the consumption of mushrooms, well... there's really no date on that. Our ancestors have been gathering and consuming mushrooms since our hunter-gather days. Heck, even today, we can't cultivate the vast majority of edible mushrooms. Most of the more exotic fungi are exclusively sourced in the wild. Notably, 2/3 of the USA's mushrooms are grown in Pennsylvania.


Now, when it comes to mushroom history, that's another story entirely. Well, a whole bunch of stories because nearly every known cuisine has its own fantastic fungi. The Egyptians, for instance, thought of mushrooms as a plant of immortality. The Pharaohs went so far as to claim they were the only ones who could eat them.

Weird flex, but ok...


Now, when I think of mushrooms, I automatically think of Asia. Specifically, I think of China and Japan. What, you think that thin slice of mushroom in that clear broth is an American invention? Well, it kind of is, but that's another post. People in China and Japan have been consuming mushrooms medicinally for thousands of years. The first proof of cultivation we have in China took place only 800 years ago. That's pretty young in the grand scheme of history. The first cultured mushroom was none other than the rich and buttery shiitake mushroom. Not only is the shiitake mushroom delicious, but the Japanese have also fused shiitake mushrooms with AIDS medication in order to improve its potency. The other two fungi filling in our list of oldest cultivated are the ear fungus and Enokitake. The latter of which is quite delicate and is grown in sawdust.


When it comes to western cultures cultivating mushrooms, well... the Fench win the culinary championship once again. Back in 1650, we have our first written record of the French growing something known as the shop mushroom. Back then, most of the growth of this crop was done in open fields. However, the French moved the operation underground, and that's how they're still grown today. From France, this "shop mushroom" traveled to England and finally America. It wasn't until 1865 that the US got the hang of fungi farming. However, I'm glad they did because we wouldn't have the Portobella or the Crimini mushroom variant today without them.


Truffles. If nothing but chocolate confections come to mind, you're definitely missing out. The fungal truffles have been harvested as early as 1600 B.C.E, but our understanding of the most umami flavor to ever umami was lacking well into the 20th century. See, we thought they were products of oak trees, like some delicious underground acorn or something. It wasn't until the 1970s that we utilized the symbiotic relationship of truffles with certain tree roots. However, it was still 10 years before the first harvest was ready. Finally, in 1987, some New Zealanders were able to replicate this system with a 5-year yield. The two most widely available truffles are the Perigord and White truffles.


When it comes to commercially raised mushrooms, there are two big hitters. You have the button mushroom family and the oyster mushroom family. Sprinkle in some truffle and jelly-type mushrooms, and you have a fungal feast on your hands.

 

What Makes Fungi Fantastic?

Well, the ones that aren't toxic (or trippy) are fat-free, low-sodium, full of fiber, low calorie, and packed with vitamins and nutrients. Here are a few other things that might turn your head.


Antioxidants: Selenium, to be exact. This protects you from signs of aging, heart disease, and even some forms of cancer. Selenium also helps boost the immune system, and mushrooms are the best source of the mineral in the produce section.


Beta Lucan: Now, this is something we haven't discussed before on The Fit Pauper. This is a soluble fiber that has been proven to improve your blood sugar levels, cholesterol, heart health, and decrease your overall chance of type 2 diabetes.


Copper: I come from a long line of electricians. Copper is important, but not just for your energy needs. It assists in creating red blood cells, bolstering bones, and improving our nervous response. A single cup of mushrooms can provide up to 1/3 of our daily value of copper.


Potassium: Bananas, take a hike. Mostly because I can't stand the texture. Anyhow, potassium plays a huge role in heart, nerve, and muscle function. A 2/3 cup serving of Portobello mushrooms provides as much potassium as an entire snot stick... ahem... banana.

 

Listen, I have not met a mushroom dish I haven't loved. That doesn't mean that you enjoy the fragrance of the fungi. It might just mean that you haven't consumed the correct application of mushrooms. If you can think of a favorite dish, then you can probably add mushrooms. They can be prepared anywhere from fried to raw and everything in between.


Promise me one thing: Never give up on trying something healthy at least once. I have been supremely surprised with the way my taste buds have led me in the right direction more often than not. Just remember, we're hardwired to crave the salty, fatty, and delicious. Your first step to a fitter you starts with the realization that healthy food can be delicious too.




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