The magic of mushrooms: Why you should get into fungi

They’re known as the “meat for vegetarians” – but protein isn’t the only good reason to put mushrooms on your menu.

Mushrooms have been a staple of diets since the 17th century.

Highly nutritious, low in fat and easy to find – it’s plain to see why both consumers and health experts are mad about mushrooms.

The nutritional goodness of mushrooms

Described as the “meat” of the vegetarian world, mushrooms are an excellent source of protein.

Mushrooms are also high in fibre, vitamins and minerals, and low in calories, according to industry experts.

They are packed full of B vitamins and selenium, and contain vitamin D if they’ve been exposed to sunlight.

Which mushrooms are best for you?

There are many types of edible mushrooms, yet you may just know a handful – such as the mild button mushroom, the buttery flavour of the shiitake, and the “meaty” portobello.

Not only do different mushrooms have their own distinct taste, they also have specific health benefits.

“Some mushrooms are prized for their health-boosting properties, from the cholesterol-lowering oyster mushrooms, to the blood-thinning wood ears,” explains mushroom grower Will Borowski, of Forest Fungi.

Considered an adaptogen (a stress-relieving plant), reishi mushrooms are believed to boost immunity and increase energy.

Mushroom powder, which usually includes reishi mushrooms, can be found in health food stores and aisles.

The powder can be added to meals or smoothies.

Should you choose organic mushrooms?

“Mushrooms can accumulate heavy metals and radioactive materials, so it is important to know where your mushrooms come from and how they are grown,” says Will.

Spanish researchers found some types of mushrooms, including chanterelles, are more prone to heavy metal accumulation.

Will recommends choosing organic mushrooms grown in Australia.

“Imported mushrooms are much cheaper, however the mushrooms are sprayed with a cocktail of chemicals and are often grown on toxic substrates,” he says.

What to know about foraging for mushrooms

Keen to pick your own mushrooms?

It’s crucial to be able to properly identify mushrooms so you don’t get the wrong kind. Death cap mushrooms, for example, are highly poisonous (as their name suggests), and can easily be mistaken for the edible kind.

“If you are new to foraging, it is best to seek the advice of experts,” says Will.

“Go on a foraging tour where you can learn the easy-to-identify edibles, as well as some of the deadly species.”

Note, too, that it is illegal to forage in national parks and you will need a permit in some state parks.

“Contact your state’s parks authority for more information.

Growing your own mushrooms

It’s easier to grow mushrooms than you may think.

“An easy way to start is to buy spawn (like mushroom seeds) from a supplier, and use this to grow your mushrooms on straw or sawdust,” advises Will.

Your local farmers’ market may have a small-scale mushroom grower who can help you out with tips and tricks, or look online for courses.

Mushroom-based recipes to try:

Written by Samantha Allemann.