November 12, 2018

Food Insights

Has there ever been a more versatile or important organism than the mushroom? 

Think about it — fungi are responsible for maintaining a natural balance in our eco-system, for the creation of many medicines that have saved millions of people, are a superfood that can enhance a myriad of performance issues in humans and, as if that wasn't enough, they’re delicious. 

It’s no surprise that fungi are smarter than most things growing in nature. Consider this — eons ago, living matter on earth separated into plants and animals. Fungus was originally part of the animal species and did not separate into its own branch for nine million years. So yes, there’s a reason your Portobello mushroom burger tastes meaty — it has a shared history. Not only are fungi smart, but in some instances, mushrooms are able to outsmart humans. 

But leave it to the forward-thinking humans to harness some of the power of the mushroom. For example, the company Ecovative Design (https://ecovativedesign.com/) has developed a method of encouraging the growth of mycelium, the root structure of mushrooms, in shredded corn husks and stalks. The result is a foam-like substance that can shaped to be used to protect goods in transit, eliminating the need for non-biodegradable polystyrene. 

This group is also developing a leather-like fabric out of mushrooms that could lessen our dependency on animal hides.  

Fungi also offer a solution to stave off bee colony collapse. Varroa mites are the root of much of the collapse but applying a type of fungus to the hives acts as a bio-pesticide that kills the mites and lasts for up to 42 days. In addition, eating Wine Cap mushrooms has helped improve bee health. And Reishi, Red-Belted Polypore and Amadou mushrooms have been found to fight viruses in honey bees and increase their life spans. (https://www.beeculture.com/honey-bees-fungi/)

With all this going for fungi, it’s not surprising that mushrooms are being looked at as where the answers to our most pressing medical and wellness questions will come from. Luckily, the list of how we successfully use fungi is already long, even though the research is still in its infancy. 

Always a superfood, ancient Egyptians and Greeks ate a variety of mushrooms for long life. The biggest fungus success we almost take for granted is penicillin which revolutionized the treatment of bacterial infections. Turkey Tail mushroom extracts are being used for cancer patients to help them cope with treatments like radiation and chemotherapy. Cordyceps mushrooms are known to bolster immunities and are even being tested for their efficacy in treating cancer patients, mainly suffering from lung cancer. They’re also a great provider of energy. 

The company Four Sigmatic (https://us.foursigmatic.com/) is really on the forefront of utilizing the “top functional mushrooms” (the company’s description) to enhance things you would ingest daily anyway — coffee, tea and hot cacao. We’re really into the coffee right now and the hot cocoa which adds Chaga and Lion’s Mane mushrooms to the blend for increased focus, creativity and productivity.

They also use Shiitake, Turkey Tail, Reishi, Maitake, Cordyceps, Enokitake, Agaricus, Meshima, Tremeila mushrooms and more. By using so many varieties, they’ve really figured out what works best and apply it to their blends so you’re getting the most effective treatment for whatever you seek — more energy, a bolstered immune system, focus, stamina and recovery. 

Magic mushrooms are experiencing a rebirth. Psilocybin mushrooms, which includes 200 types of mushrooms, have been looked at as a treatment for PTSD in military veterans. In micro doses, these mushrooms have helped reset the injured veterans’ brains.  

Medical researchers are starting to test whether there are more applications for the microdosing. (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/scientists-are-starting-to-test-claims-about-microdosing/) Hundreds of Reddit users have reported increased creativity, less anxiety, decreased need for caffeine and reduced depression while on a micro dose of Psilocybin, which is about one-tenth the dose used for a hallucinogenic trip. 

While the types of mushrooms we use in food preparations are probably not going to cure you of depression or send you on a jag of creativity, they will give you intensely earthy and complex flavors. 

Mushrooms have so much water content that they’re more flavorful when dehydrated. We use a lot of Porcini mushroom powder to boost the flavor of a mushroom sauce or the filling in ravioli. That powder gives an excellent umami flavor and there’s endless applications for mushrooms in food. 

Interestingly, there is a fast food chain that’s offering a burger made from a blend of mushrooms and beef. The flavor is unmistakably meaty while the burger is lower in calories than a pure beef burger. And it’s better for the environment, since using less meat means raising fewer cows, who make a large contribution to global warming through the gasses they emit.

So it seems mushrooms could even save the earth. Like we said… Magic.