Mushrooms haven’t always been a favourite food of mine. But, as I learnt about their many nutritional qualities, I decided to give them another try. Fast forward a few years, and there has been some progress. I enjoy them as part of a meal or soup, but I’m not quite ready to dive into a large portobello. So, for now, I am happy eating button and cremini.
FUN FACT: Eating mushrooms or fungi is known as mycophagy
Whether you are a fan or not, mushrooms have some fantastic qualities. Mushrooms are entrenched in human history. As far back as the Palaeolithic age, they have almost always been known for their medicinal qualities. The Egyptians of old believed they had powers of immortality, and commoners weren’t even allowed to touch them. As there were no seeds, mushrooms were known as ‘sons of gods’ mainly because no one could figure out how they propagated.
The Dark Side of Mushrooms
Of course, you cannot talk about mushrooms and leave out a crucial point – some of them are deadly! Over the era’s accounts of entire families succumbing to the poisons of incorrectly identified mushrooms have been reported. You would think we would be very hesitant to go out and pick wild mushrooms; think again. In the Czech Republic, it is an unofficial sport, and it’s estimated that around 70% of the population are annual mushroomers (pickers). It would be best to leave picking wild mushrooms to someone in the know.
What Kind of Mushroom
Our ancestors may have attributed the mushrooms divine origins based on superstition and simplistic beliefs, but with modern science, we have come to understand just how powerful they are. There are many different types of mushrooms. Each has varying degrees of health benefits; however, most of us are familiar with the small brown, white or cremini mushrooms commonly referred to as button mushrooms. These technically or botanically speaking are in the same family. Because they are so common, let’s focus on what they bring to the table nutritionally.
Button mushrooms are an excellent source of minerals that are very important to our bodies. We use dietary minerals to grow and maintain our bones, tissues, and cells. Without healthy levels of minerals in our bodies, we may not be able to utilise vitamins correctly. Some minerals are required in small quantities (known as trace minerals), and others are needed in larger quantities.
Button mushrooms have selenium, copper, potassium and zinc.
Mushrooms, in general, are a good source of vitamin B, which is good news. Vitamin B’s are linked to energy levels and brain and cell health and are water-soluble. As they are water-soluble, we need to replenish regularly; adding mushrooms to your meals are a significant boost. Button mushrooms, in particular, have Vitamin B1, B2, B3 & B5.
Plants use phytochemicals to protect themselves against various elements and predators. You would think that phyto = fight, but it is Greek for plant. These plant chemicals are most notably known for their antioxidant properties. Antioxidants help us fight free radicals that can cause cancer. There are a growing number of anticancer studies using mushrooms that are showing a great deal of promise(iv).
There is so much more to mushrooms than their nutritional value or how we choose to eat them. They even made a mushroom movie, which was pretty fascinating and well worth the watch:
PS: If you are a Star Trek fan like me, Star Trek Discovery uses a mycelial network to instantly travel across the universe. The fun part is that it is based on actual mushroom science!