Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Mushrooms - Plants Or Animals?

All mushrooms belong to the family of fungi, which is neither plant or animal. After continuing research there is evidence that fungi may be more closely related to animals than plants. The fungi family includes over 200,000 identified species with possibly hundreds of thousands more that have not been identified. From the tiniest microfungi such as bread mold and yeast to what is believed to be the largest living thing on earth, a Honey Mushroom that lives in the Blue Mountains of eastern Oregon that is estimated to cover over 2,200 acres and be at least 2,400 years old, the earth teems with fungi! There are many varieties used for cooking, from the common and inexpensive button mushroom to the very expensive (thousands of dollars a pound) for white truffles.

The most widely cultivated, harvested and purchased mushroom in the world is the white or button mushroom. It is low in Saturated Fat and Sodium, and very low in Cholesterol and a good source of Dietary Fiber, Protein, Vitamin C, Folate, Iron, Zinc and Manganese, and a good source of Vitamin D and many other nutrients and vitamins.

Button mushroom flavor is mild, and they tend to take on the flavor of  foods they are cooked with. They are easy to use either whole or sliced. There is a school of thought that since these mushrooms tend to absorb liquids that they should not be washed, but gently brushed off before cooking. Personally, I see no harm in washing mushrooms especially when it is remembered that they are grown in horse manure (albeit sterilized and composted). As long as they are rinsed and dried without allowing them to soak in water, there should be no problem.

The next most widely used mushroom is the Crimini, or Italian Brown mushroom.  When these mushroom grow larger they are called Portabella mushrooms.  They are actually the original mushroom that the button mushroom was derived from. The white color was developed because it was thought to be more eye-appealing. Crimini mushrooms tend to be a little more dense in texture and have a deeper flavor than button mushrooms. 

There are some basic guidelines to using these mushrooms and many other mushrooms.  If you are using them fresh, do not wash them or slice them until ready to incorporate them into the dish. If you are using canned mushrooms, be sure to drain them well.  If you are pan-frying them by themselves they will tend to soak up some of the oil so be sure to add a little more when needed. The difference in taste between mushrooms browned and caramelized with oil and/or butter and those that don't get caramelized and brown is like night and day.  Potabella caps can be pan-fried and used and eaten as a hamburger with all the trimmings for a veggie burger. They can also be stuffed with a variety of stuffings. 

There are many other varieties of mushrooms, fresh and canned, available in supermarkets. But these two basic kinds of mushrooms can take you a long way into learning how to use and appreciate this very unique, versatile and nutritious fungi.
My Zimbio