Mother Nature, if you’re listening, this article is a friendly reminder that our summer monsoons could use a little boost. August is a wonderful time of year to find mushrooms in nature, but only moisture will tease them out of hiding.
Granted, all is not lost without your compliance. Mushroom cultivators will help stock shelves at the grocer or fill a booth at the farmers market. But there is something magical about finding edible mushrooms while wandering through the woods. Needless to say, heed caution in foraging. For an amateur, the journey may become more magical or miserable than anticipated.
If canned button mushrooms are the extent of your culinary experience, it may be hard to convince you they are anything more than a squishy glob playing hide in seek in your meal. Don’t blame the mushroom for falling victim to the effects of high-heat processing. When consumed dried or fresh, it’s a whole new experience.
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Don’t get me wrong, the accessibility of canned mushrooms gives them purpose, though they’re best suited for casseroles and soups.
Taste and smell vary depending on the type of mushroom and your senses. I once had an opportunity to go truffle hunting – I’m not sure what smelled muskier, the mushrooms or the four truffle hunting dogs and three tourists all crammed into a small European car. Talk about a rich sensory experience! If earthy and musky don’t appeal, go light with truffles.
Fresh mushrooms are akin to a painter’s canvas, simply waiting to enhance the flavor of the meal you create. On their own, they are described as earthy, nutty or buttery. What doesn’t go well with butter? What does, is thyme, rosemary, sage, oregano, parsley, poultry, sauces, red meat, risotto and pasta.
What’s especially unique about mushrooms is their umami characteristic. Think of umami as savory, it adds depth to a meal. Its contribution is hard to explain but results in a noticeable blandness when missing from a recipe. Tomatoes, Parmesan cheese and soy sauce are other examples of umami foods.
Sure, soy sauce and Parmesan may be more agreeable to your palate, and certainly more texture friendly. What they don’t offer (much of) is vitamin D and other nutraceuticals with demonstrated support in immunity, gut health and anti-cancer capacity.
You may know vitamin D as the sunshine vitamin, and for good reason. Through a series of steps, cholesterol in our skin is synthesized into vitamin D3 when exposed to UVB rays. Food is generally a poor source of this necessary vitamin. A real bummer for those who always wear sunscreen, live at higher latitudes or spend little time outside.
Mushrooms tend to grow in cool, shady areas. Yet, when they are exposed to UV rays, even briefly, either in nature or deliberately during cultivation, they make significant amounts of vitamin D2.
All great information except that for those who mind the texture of mushrooms, no degree of health benefits or umami can compensate.
Here are some recommendations to mitigate sensory issues with the texture of mushrooms.
- Opt for firm mushrooms such as portabella or shiitake.
- Gently scrape the gills off large mushroom caps (like Portabella).
- Use a vegetable brush or paper towel to remove dirt rather than washing them with water.
- Sauté mushrooms until they release and subsequently reabsorb liquids.
- Finely chop mushrooms and blend them into other foods such as ground beef.
- Finally, purchase dried and powdered mushrooms. Add the powder to food as though it were a spice – all of the umami and health benefits, none of the texture.
Nicole Clark is the family and consumer science agent for the La Plata County Extension Office. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 382-6461.