The healing, tasty varieties of mushrooms and truffles

October 9, 2015

For centuries humans have devoured mushrooms and truffles. Sought after for medicinal purposes, there are numerous benefits of adding these to any meal.

The healing, tasty varieties of mushrooms and truffles

The difference of mushrooms

All types of mushrooms, as well as truffles, are classified as fungi. They are primitive plants that cannot obtain energy through photosynthesis and therefore draw their nutrients from the earth. Many varieties of fungi live symbiotically with trees. The fungus draws sugars from the tree roots, while at the same time supplying the tree with minerals, such as phosphorus, which it gets from the soil more efficiently than the tree.

The uniqueness of mushrooms

Mushrooms and truffles have another unique feature. Their cell walls are made of chitin, the same material that forms the external skeleton of insects. By contrast, higher plants' cell walls are composed of cellulose, which we value not as a nutrient (humans can't digest cellulose) but as fibre that promotes the elimination of digestive waste. Used in every age and culture as food, mushrooms have also served as medicines and as stimulants or hallucinogens. There's even evidence mushrooms were used back in the Stone Age.

Many varieties

The common white mushroom, Agaricus bisporus, was first cultivated by the French more than 300 years ago in abandoned gypsum quarries near Paris. Today, mushrooms are cultivated on beds of manure, straw and soil in darkened buildings controlled for temperature and humidity. Only recently has it become possible to cultivate a number of other species on a commercial scale. Although they are cultivated, many varieties preserve much of the rich, earthy flavour of field mushrooms. Thanks to this development, a wide range of mushrooms is now offered by many supermarkets including:

  • Brown varieties such as the small crimini.
  • The larger, flatter portobellos, which are especially suitable for barbecuing and can take the place of meat in a meal.
  • The delicate brown or grey oyster.
  • Orange chanterelles.
  • The chewy shiitakes with their dark brown caps and white gills.
  • The crisp white enokis with their long, thin stems and tiny caps.
  • The ominously black but perfectly safe trumpets of death.

An expensive delicacy

Truffles grow underground among the roots of certain oak, hazel and linden trees. Their musky scent is due to the hormone androstenol — which some claim is identical to the one secreted in the saliva of male pigs. Trained sows are more efficient than dogs at rooting up the prized fungus in the truffle-growing regions of France and Italy. As a result of over­harvesting and deforestation, truffles are now so rare and expensive that only minute shavings are used to flavour dishes. Attempts to grow them on a commercial scale have been unsuccessful so far.

So whether it's mushrooms or truffles, the healthy benefits of these centuries old foods make them a must have on your dinner plate.

The material on this website is provided for entertainment, informational and educational purposes only and should never act as a substitute to the advice of an applicable professional. Use of this website is subject to our terms of use and privacy policy.
Close menu