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Overview

They're magic (well some are - but we don't stock those!), really weird, but really wonderful… Mushrooms!

Is it a fruit, is it a vegetable, is it a plant? No...it's a mushroom! It's own identity in its own right.  

With many choosing to cut down or cut out meat from their diet, mushrooms are proving the saviour for those looking for an alternative packed with nutritional power. Protein, fibre, vitamin B & D - just to mention a few of the health benefits - not even to mention the fantastic range of varieties and all the delicious recipe options mushrooms bring. Mushrooms without a doubt deserve their own celebratory month!

 
  

About

What are mushrooms?

Plants and animals sit on different branches of the tree of evolution, and so do mushrooms (or fungi). It could be said that mushrooms are as close to apples and oranges as they are to penguins and people, but we actually share a more recent common ancestor with mushrooms than we do with plants. While animals move around and eat things to survive, and plants stay in the same place and produce their own food using the sun, mushrooms/fungi survive by decomposing organic material. They’re a bit like stationary vultures.

History

Wild mushrooms have a long history of consumption. They were eaten by the earliest humans and were popular with upper-class Romans and Greeks, who had tasters to ensure they were safe to eat. Mushrooms are very popular in East Asia where they’re famed for their medicinal qualities and where the earliest recorded cultivation of mushrooms took place about 800 years ago. 

Mushrooms are valued in cuisines across the world for their unique flavours, textures and appearance. Traditional mushroom recipes tend to involve simply sautéing the mushrooms, stuffing them or using them to make a sauce or soup, but recently they’re also seeing a surge in popularity for those opting for a plant-based diet, due to their ability to mimic or replace meat in a wide variety of dishes.

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How should mushrooms be stored?

Mushrooms can be well-preserved by freezing, drying or even pickling, and if that’s what you want to do its best to consult a guide specific to the kind of mushroom you’re preserving. Otherwise, mushrooms can be kept in the fridge for up to a week, but the fresher the better. They should ideally be stored in a paper bag with the top folded over to help prevent the mushrooms from getting soggy. Mushrooms shouldn’t be kept close to pungent foods as, due to their porous flesh, they can absorb smells and flavours quite easily. Some mushrooms, the thinner, more delicate varieties usually, won’t last as long as others. 

Nutritional benefits of mushrooms

Mushrooms are high in protein for a non-animal product and contain only the tiniest amount of fat. The bulk of a mushroom is made up of water, carbohydrates, protein and fibre. They contain plenty of B vitamins and a lot of minerals that can be difficult to find, such as selenium, copper and phosphorus. Mushrooms are one of the few sources of vitamin D for those following a vegan diet.

Seasonality of mushrooms

Seasonality of mushrooms is only a concern for wild mushrooms, where seasons can often be limited and change with the year’s weather. Because of this, reliable supply is often only possible with dried or frozen mushrooms – fortunately, they respond well to preservation. Cultivated mushrooms are grown in carefully controlled conditions and are available year-round.

Quality

How to select mushrooms

The warning signs that a mushroom is going bad or already has, can be seen through its texture, smell and colour. Dark spots or stains on the cap are a clear sign your mushrooms have gone bad, as are darkening gills on the underside of the cap.

Mushrooms should be dry to the touch and should not have a film of moisture or be slimy. Mushrooms that are too old can also dry out and become wrinkly or develop cracks that weren’t there before. Lastly, fresh mushrooms do not have a very strong smell. Different varieties can smell slightly earthy, metallic, fruity or even like liquorice, but when mushrooms start smelling of fish or ammonia they’re well past the point of eating.

It’s normal for mushrooms to have some imperfections and variations in colour, and ultimately the best way to know you’re getting the best produce is to familiarise yourself with the mushroom in question while looking for those warning signs. 

How should mushrooms be prepared?

Mushrooms are straightforward to prepare. They can be cleaned by brushing, wiping, rinsing or soaking, left whole or cut to the desired size or shape, and then cooked any way you like. Eating mushrooms raw is probably not advisable because they’re difficult for the body to digest and possibly poisonous. Even the common white mushroom contains a small amount of toxins normally destroyed by cooking.

To wash, or not to wash, that is the question! Traditional advice suggests gently brushing or tapping mushrooms and avoid any moisture to the mushroom. Any dirt on cultivated mushrooms is sterile anyway and it’s only the wild mushrooms that really need cleaning. The argument here is that mushrooms are porous, so getting them in contact with water degrades the mushroom and makes them soggy.

Other experts say that mushrooms are full of water anyway and don’t absorb much more at all. They suggest that cooking them after a soak or rinse and crowded together is actually a better method. Cooking them ‘wet’ means they cook in water longer, breaking down the mushroom and making them less porous by the time it evaporates. This results in less oil or fat being absorbed in the end. Maybe there’s a middle ground here - if you’re looking for delicious buttery mushrooms try the first method, and the second if you want less oily mushrooms.

Growing

How do mushrooms grow?

Mushrooms grow from a mycelium, a root-like structure hidden in the wood or soil the mushroom is growing in. The mushrooms themselves are just the fruit of the mycelium, which is how they’re able to grow so quickly out of seemingly nothing. Their purpose is to spread fungal spores and propagate the plant. One of the largest living organisms in the world is a 2,000-year-old colony of honey fungus in Oregon that is invisible most of the year – the mycelium weighs up to 600 tons, while the mushrooms themselves only about half a ton.

Some fungi are parasitic, but the majority do not produce mushrooms. The mushrooms we eat get their nutrition by decomposing dead organic material. If you see mushrooms growing on a dying tree, it’s probably not the mushrooms fault!

The cultivation of mushrooms by humans is relatively recent, especially when it comes to formerly ‘wild’ mushrooms. The earliest techniques were as simple as placing logs next to trees already growing the mushroom. Refined modern methods involve almost laboratory conditions with the mushroom growing on carefully composed mixtures of materials like sawdust, woodchips and straw, or inserting those mixtures into logs. The temperature and chemical composition of the air is changed to promote different stages of growth and development. 

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Where are our mushrooms grown?

The Oliver Kay buying teamwork with Walsh Mushrooms in Evesham for our supply of standard mushrooms,  medium cups, flat mushrooms, button, chestnut, portabella mushrooms. 

We buy our exotic mushrooms from Smithy mushrooms in Lancashire. Varieties include; Shitake, oyster, Hen of the woods, shimeji, enoki and eryngi.

Established in 1989, Smithy Mushrooms has been developed continuously over the years to now feature 26 growing rooms cultivating a large variety of different, wild and exotic mushrooms. Our buyers have built a long-standing relationship over many years with the team at Smithy’s.

COMMON MUSHROOM

The common mushroom, like most varieties of mushroom really, is known by many names, but this is a special case! Button mushrooms, chestnut mushrooms, white mushrooms, portobello, portobellini… they’re all really just one species. As the mushrooms go through different stages of growth, they transform from a small button to having a large, flat cap with exposed gills. Although the white mushroom might be thought to be the common one, this wasn’t the case until 1925 when an American grower found a white mushroom among his ‘chestnut’ mushrooms. Fortunately, he was also a mycologist - a mushroom scientist and was able to propagate this chance mutation. These mushrooms are also called champignons, which is just the French word for ‘mushroom’. Their French name is champignon de Paris, which relates to how they were commercially grown in the limestone quarries around Paris. The common mushroom features in cuisines all over the world and is incredibly versatile, in part due to its four varieties each suited different purposes. Button mushrooms are good for cooking whole. If you want a deeper flavour from your mushroom, go for chestnuts, while white mushrooms are more neutral. The larger mushrooms are perfect for stuffing, grilling and producing larger slices.

ENOKI MUSHROOM

Enoki mushrooms are white, long and thin, with very small caps. They are a very popular mushroom in Asia, particularly in Japan, where they are called enokitake because they grow on the enoki tree. They have a delicate flavour and are slightly crunchy. These mushrooms have their colour and shape because they’ve been specially cultivated. In the wild enoki are a lot darker and look like more ‘ordinary’ mushrooms, with a yellow colour and larger, flatter caps. The difference is that the cultivated enoki are kept in darkness and grown in a CO2 rich environment.

Enoki mushrooms have a wide application in East Asian cuisine, featuring in noodle bowls, stir-fry’s, hot pots, soups and salads, as well as cooked in a sauce and eaten like noodles. They are rich in vitamins, minerals and fibre.

KING OYSTER MUSHROOM

The king oyster is a mushroom well deserving of its name. King oysters are instantly recognisable by their long, girthy white stems topped with a relatively modest tan-coloured cap. These mushrooms have a particularly meaty texture and umami flavour and are popular in East Asian dishes, but have recently become much more well-known in the UK and elsewhere as an element in meat-free cooking. Many meat alternatives either lack the desired size or shape, or must be processed to achieve it, while the king oyster is a gift from nature in that respect. King oyster bacon, king oyster scallops, king oyster steak, king oyster ribs, king oyster pulled pork, kung pao king oyster… A delicious mushroom in its own right, the exploding popularity of meat alternatives has really pushed the king oyster mushroom into fame. This quality has been recognised for a long time, and their Chinese name is probably the most accurate of them all – ‘chicken leg mushrooms’.

PORCINI (CEP) MUSHROOM

The porcini mushroom is one of the most prized mushrooms in European cuisine, a reputation it has held since the time of the early Roman Empire. They’re sometimes called ceps, the French name, while the traditional English name, penny bun, seems to have been forgotten. It’s appearance, as mushrooms go, is fairly ordinary, with a white, tan-blemished stalk that is typically short and thick, topped with a classic reddish-brown mushroom cap. They can grow extremely large in the wild, to over a kilogram even, but are usually sold in pretty modest sizes.

Porcini mushrooms have a nutty, savoury flavour and a smooth texture, and have received a huge amount of praise. Porcini was described as “the wild mushroom par excellence” by the late Antonio Carluccio, ‘the Godfather of Italian gastronomy’. Almost two thousand years earlier, the Roman poet Martial wrote of how common mushrooms were only fit for pigs next to the porcini! Wherever a bold mushroom flavour is desired, these are right for the job. ‹

MOREL MUSHROOM

Morels have a very distinct appearance – they have a brown cone-shaped cap with a honeycomb-like appearance. They have proven very difficult to cultivate, so they must be gathered from the wild when they fruit in spring. Thankfully they keep their flavour well when preserved. They grow all over the northern hemisphere, but harvesting is particularly intense in North America, Turkey, and in the countries next to the Himalayas.

The flavour of morel mushrooms is complex, being described as nutty, meaty, even a little ‘woody’. Morels make a great addition to slow-cooked stews, meat, seafood and pasta dishes, and are commonly cooked with butter, cream or alcohol.

SHIITAKE MUSHROOM

The champion mushroom of East Asia. The shiitake has the longest recorded history of cultivation of all the mushrooms, with a short guide having been written in China at the beginning of the 13th Century. It is also one of the most popular, making up about a quarter of global mushroom production today. The traditional Japanese method of shiitake farming is to place logs next to trees with the mushroom growing on them. The logs were made from shii trees, which is how the mushroom got its name – and ‘take’ is Japanese for mushroom.

In appearance they look a lot like chestnut mushrooms, but with a flatter, broader cap. Shiitake have a firm, almost slippery texture and a rich umami flavour with earthy, smoky notes. Some say the shiitake has ten times the flavour of white mushrooms. Comparing fresh with dry shiitake, it can be a matter of preference or what would suit the dish better. Dry shiitake have a more intense flavour, but they may lose some of the texture of fresh.

Shiitake are found in many East Asian dishes, from noodles, to soup, to dumplings. As their popularity has risen elsewhere in the world they’ve also found their way into small dishes like bruschetta, tapenades and pates as well as an accompaniment to all kinds of meats and seafood. Their strong savoury flavour also lends them to a satisfying meat-free dish.

CHANTERELLE (GIROLLE) MUSHROOM

The chanterelle, or girolle, is a wild mushroom. Yellow or orange in colour and with a faint fruity smell similar to apricots. The name chanterelle comes from the ancient Greek word kantharos, a special wine cup used for banquets and ceremonies, because the mushroom’s cap is concave like a cup, with false gills running up it. A flower might be a better comparison though! The chanterelle grows on soil in pine or hardwood forests across the world, including Britain. They emerge from around June to October and are associated with wild blueberries.

Chanterelles have a long history in European cuisine where they were popular among the nobility from the late Middle Ages onwards. They pair well with chicken, eggs, pork and veal in particular, but have a place in a wide variety of dishes. They have an unusual, mildly peppery flavour.

GREY OYSTER MUSHROOM

The grey oyster mushroom is a relative of the king oyster, but with a very different appearance. You may have seen these or similar looking mushrooms growing on the side of trees, where they look like round, flat shelves with gills on the underside. The grey oyster is usually light grey in colour. It can be foraged for in the wild, but commercial cultivation takes place on a large scale. It’s not very common to see grey oysters in a British supermarket, but they’re actually the third most popular mushroom in the world, just behind shiitake. The mass cultivation of the grey oyster began in Germany as a war-time subsistence measure during WWI because they’re very resistant to cold weather, and they remain very popular in Central and Eastern Europe.

The grey oyster is one of the few ‘predatory’ mushrooms in the world! Its mycelium kills and digests roundworms, although the majority of its diet comes from the rotting wood they grow on. While the mushrooms do kill the roundworms, they only infect trees that are already rotting. Grey Oysters are tender and mild in flavour, and smell of anise or liquorice. They are typically found in mushroom medleys, soups and stews in European cuisine, and are also a popular delicacy and base for sauces in East Asia.

Mushroom Recipes

CHEF COMPETITION

As part of our fruit and veg celebration, we are holding a monthly competition for chefs to suggest dish ideas using the produce of the month. The best dish idea each month will win a prize and be included in a recipe book that will be published at the end of the fruit & veg celebration in December 2020. So there are 12 chances to win!
We appreciate it’s busy this time of year, but to start off our recipe book in style we are keen to see your sprout dishes - it takes two minutes to show off your hard work! So please take a snap, upload to social media and tag us in, including the hashtag #fruitvegceclebration

To enter your recipe ideas, simply tag us in a photo of your dish with a short description, on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook. Alternatively, you can email entries to competition@oliverkayproduce.co.uk. For more information see our fruit and veg celebration page, and entry information, terms and conditions can be viewed here. 

JUNIOR COMPETITION

Chef Shroom is so busy in the kitchen she needs some friends to help her out. So, we are asking you to create a mushroom kitchen team member to help! Use your creativity and draw, or make your character! We would also like to know what delicious dish you would make with mushrooms!

Send your entries to: competition@oliverkayproduce.co.uk (group entries from schools etc are welcome!) For more information visit our fruit and veg celebration page. Full details, including entry information, terms and conditions can be viewed here.

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