Edible expensive food fungi - mushrooms, morels and truffles

A in-depth look at fungi: mushrooms, morels, and truffles. Mushrooms. Earthy, elegant, rich, meaty….. Extraordinary. Natural umami flavor boosters

Edible expensive food fungi  - mushrooms, morels and truffles

Mushrooms fall into the love / hate category. Either you love them or not so much. A bit like George W, Eminem, country music and Jim Carey. There is no middle ground. Regardless of which group you live in, mushrooms have long been the subject of great fascination. They are found all over the world and go back throughout the history of man. At a time similar to Jurassic Park, a scientist recently found a fungus encased in the sap of a tree that is many millions of years old.  

In ancient times, the Egyptians were so in love with mushrooms that they called them sons of gods, sent them to earth with thunderbolts, and declared them food suitable only for royalty. No commoner was allowed to touch them, much less eat them. The Romans were obsessed with mushrooms and passed laws declaring mushrooms "the food of the gods." In medieval Ireland, mushrooms were considered umbrellas for goblins and even Britons with food problems had their own legends about mushrooms. They believed that mushrooms only needed to be collected during full moons to be edible.

Image of edible mushrooms

Of the more than 40,000 varieties of mushrooms, there are gastronomically pleasurable, hallucinogenic and deadly ones. Famous victims of mushroom poisoning include: Buddha, Roman Emperors Tiberius and Claudius, a full banquet of guests from Emperor Nero, Alexander I of Russia, Pope Clement II, and King Charles V of France. Edible mushrooms are a very small number in the mushroom category. The vast majority of mushrooms are tough, bitter, and tasteless, or so rare that they are not worthy of interest as food.

Ecologically, fungi play a crucial role. Fungi are fungi, not vegetables, and they grow in dark places and reproduce by releasing millions of spores. By recycling dead organic material into useful nutrients and enriching the soil, they play an important symbiotic role in the environment. Some species are even used to absorb and digest toxic substances like oil, pesticides, and industrial waste, where they threaten the environment. Mushrooms contribute to the production of numerous drugs, including penicillin and other antibiotics, as well as the necessary ingredient for yeast in bread, cheese, champagne, and beer.

Long regarded as lacking in nutrients, mushrooms have been re-evaluated in the 21st century and hailed as "the gourmet health food." They are low in calories, high in protein, averaging about 20% of their dry mass, and contain a wide range of B vitamins (riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic) and minerals (selenium, copper, and potassium). Recently, it has been claimed that they can boost the immune system, have antibiotic properties, and even fight cancer.

Mushrooms have been cultivated for the past 300 years. The French began cultivating them in caves in the 17th century. In the United States, cultivation began in the early 19th century in Pennsylvania, which is still the leading producer, followed by California. Pennsylvania produces more than 50% of the mushrooms grown commercially in the United States.  

When selecting mushrooms, you should look for firm caps, without moisture and without blemishes. Store them in a paper bag in the refrigerator, NOT airtight plastic bags, which will lock in moisture and speed spoilage. Because mushrooms are 90% water, they should never be soaked. To clean, just gently brush or rub the mushrooms with a damp paper towel or rinse with water, then towel dry.

Morels and Truffles

Because the tastiest mushrooms grow wild, they are a cult unto themselves. In Europe, families spend spring afternoons hunting in the countryside. It's a trio: they enjoy fresh air, Mother Nature, and take home dinner. Mushrooms such as chanterelles and porcini are found in the wild in Europe, North America, and Asia. But the most precious crop is morels. Morels are abundant in Germany and France, and can also be found in many states, Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, and the New England area.  

Image of a morels taste of earth, umami boost

There are four species of wild morels, but white is considered superior in both taste and texture to black morels. Due to its excellent taste and woody aroma, morels are quite expensive. Half an ounce of dried morels costs about $ 9 at my local grocery store. They have a smoky, nutty and delicate flavor, which is more pronounced the darker the specimen is. In 1990, scientists perfected a process for growing morels commercially, however, wild mushrooms are tastier and more robust. They are also rare, therefore more expensive.

The undisputed emperor of the Mushroom Kingdom is the truffle. In Europe, there have been shootings, fraud, and theft on these tubers reminiscent of a 007 movie plot. Because they grow underground (2 - 15 ”), 4 to 5 feet from the base of an oak tree in Italy and France, they are extremely rare and sought after. Truffles have long been regarded by connoisseurs as an aphrodisiac, perhaps because they produce a chemical nearly identical to a sex pheromone found in the saliva of a male pig and in the sweat from the armpits of men (yum! !). Although there is no scientific evidence of any amorous effects, hunters are using trained dogs and goats more frequently due to the veracity the sows have when they find truffles.

Truffles grow in below the ground its hard to find and bit expensive

Truffles have a spicy, woody, and slightly garlic aroma, and there are two varieties of truffles commonly found on the market: black and white. Enthusiasts disagree on which one is better. Black truffles, found in France, Italy, and China, are highly aromatic and will penetrate other foods unless stored separately. The Italians are considered the best and the Chinese are inferior, but it is difficult to discern them. The safest thing you can do if you want to buy truffles or truffle oil is to stick with well-known and reputable names like Agribosco and Urbani. Fresh black truffles must be cooked and again purchased from a trusted source.

Italians consider white truffles to be superior. They are abundant in the Piedmont, Umbria and Emilia Bologna regions, and have a pepper and garlic aroma and flavor. Always served raw, thinly sliced, or added to cooked dishes at the last possible moment to preserve aromatics, white truffles can cost up to $ 1,500 per kilo.

For the past ten years, black and white truffles have been grown in Oregon. Considered inferior to their European cousins, they are an entirely different species. Again, white is superior to cultivated black. Versatile, white has a pungent aromatic flavor, simple and powerful, earthy and musky, and can be eaten fresh and raw or moderately cooked. The black truffle is less spicy, but it is useful in cooked dishes.  

The Japanese are so in love with the taste sensation of mushrooms that they have created a new word as a descriptor, umami. "Umami" is defined as delicacy, and the Japanese recognize it as a fifth taste, separate from sweet, salty, bitter and sour. The "umami" experience is best exemplified by the enhanced flavor or the perfect combination of mushrooms and certain foods, primarily meats. When combined correctly, mushrooms and meat produce a flavor that is more than the sum of their parts. Like the classic crème brulee pairing with port, a perfect combination that rises to a new level.

Regardless of your stance on the Kingdom of mushrooms, they are a healthy, unique, and incredibly diverse food. Furthermore, they play an important role in our environment. If it weren't for its ability to recycle dead organic material, our planet would be a meter deep in waste. Gourmet healthy food meets waste management. A match that even the Romans would find ironic.