Saturday Magazine
Eat your mushrooms

by Dr. D. P. Athukorale
Mushroom is a fungus which remains underground and sends up the mushroom stem and cap which can be considered as its fruit. It is common knowledge that fungi are simple plants which neither flower nor possess chlorophyll, the green colouring matter in plants which is essential for photosynthesis.

Mushrooms are a key stimulating part of vegetarian diet. It is estimated that there are over 200 varieties of mushrooms in the world. Some of the common mushroom varieties commercially marketed are:

1. Common mushroom

The most widely available mushrooms of all the varieties are those of the agaricus family. Button mushrooms age the smallest generally sold and have not yet opened their gills. They are delicious raw, served whole in sauce or marinated. Slightly older mushrooms will have opened to reveal their gills and are more appropriate for cooking rather than raw use; when sliced they mAke an excellent ingredient in a stir-fry. Large open mushrooms are mainly used for stuffing.

2. Oyster mushrooms

These are quite expensive and these have a slightly fishy flavour, a toughish texture and is used in stews, soups and casseroles. When sprinkled with lemon juice, dipped in batter, rolled in breadcrumbs and fried until golden it is said to be indistinguish able from oyster.

3. Ceps

Highly rated and often highly expensive, the cep has a stumpy appearance and lacks the usual gills under its hamburger-bun like cap. It is delicious simply sauted in olive oil and garlic.

4. Chanterelle

Also known as Girolle, this is a gourmet mushroom whose slightly peppery apricot aroma should not be overwhelmed by strong flavours. With a fairly tough texture, it should be stewed in soya milk for about 10 minutes or alternately it makes an excellent and exotic refinement to scrambled tofu.

5. Morel

Another gourmet mushroom which looks nothing like other fungi, having a honey-comb like cap. Good fried or added to casseroles, souces and soup. Alcohol should not be taken when you are consuming Morel as you may get stomach upsets.

6. Truffle

This is an edible fungus which grows underground, the ultimate in gourmet fungi. Black truffles are generally sauted in champagne, white ones are sliced extremely thinly and sprinkled over rice dishes.

7. Shitake

Generally available dried from oriental grocery shops, the shitake mushroom is both delicately flavoured and not very expensive, an increasingly popular ingredient in stir-fries and many Japanese and Chinese dishes. It also has a formidable reputation in the East as a healthy food.

8. Chinese Straw Mushrooms,

This is available in our supermarkets as well as Chinese food stores and familiar to patrons of Chinese restaurants as an important and delicious ingredient in such dishes as fried mixed vegetables.

9. Wooden Mushrooms

Another Chinese favourite available dried and when reconstituted with water gives a thick glutinous texture to any dish.

In addition to above there are certain varieties which are not found in supermarkets namely

(a) "Piduru Hathu" which grow in hagstacks and is popular among rural people and available during the paddy harvesting season .

(b) "Len Hathu"

This is a popular type of mushrooms among rural folk. This mushroom has the appearance of a squirrel’s ear. When used with garlic, onions and spices and fried it is quite a tasty dish

Nutritional value of mushrooms

One cup of fresh mushrooms (70gm ) has 17.50 K calories, 0.29gm of fat, 0.12gm of polyunsaturated fat, 0.04gm of saturated fat, 3.26gm of carbohydrates, 1.46gm of protein 0.52gm of crude fibre, 2.45mg of vitamin C, 0.07mg of thiamin, 0.31mg of riboflavin, 2.86mg of nicotinic acid, 1.54mg of pantothenic acid, 0.07mg of vitamin B6, 14.77mg of folic acid, 3.50mg of calcium, 0.87mg of iron and 0.51mg of zinc.

Health Warning

In Sri Lanka too, as in other countries there are poisonous mushrooms. Poisonous mushrooms contain two types of toxins (a) phallotoxins which are heptapeptides that act quickly causing vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal pain and (b) amatoxins which are octopeptides which act on hepatocytes (liver cells) and kidney tubular cells causing kidney failure and these patients may need dialysis treatment if they are to survive. Therefore it is dangerous to eat any type of unfamiliar mushroom. As far as I am aware the mushrooms available in our Sunday fairs, boutiques, and supermarkets are quite safe for consumption.

Mushrooms are particularly vulnerable to absorbing radioactive fallout (especially caesium) and it would therefore be extremely prudent to avoid buying mushrooms from areas which have recently suffered from nuclear contamination.
Courtesy Guide To Vegetarian Living By Peter Cox