Mysterious Mushrooms

They’re neither animal nor vegetable, they can be hard to find yet they sprout everywhere, they can be poisonous or curative. Their spores can even survive in outer space. But the meat of the matter is that mushrooms are unique, delicious and good for you.

In the recent film Fantastic Fungi, Paul Stamets, Michael Pollan and other experts say that mushrooms can save the world, or at least parts of it. According to the mycologists quoted in the film, mushrooms hold answers to disease, pollution, anxiety, depression and global warming. There they are, right underfoot.

Mycologists point out to the intricate network mycelia (that’s mushrooms and other fungus) form between the roots of trees, allowing them to communicate. They attribute all kinds of healing properties to various mushrooms—cancer, infection, viruses can all be helped with the right kind of mushroom.

And before you raise your eyebrows through the roof, remember that penicillin comes from a kind of fungus. The first statins—cholesterol-lowering medications— were derived from mushrooms, and antibiotics like cyclosporin have been found via mushrooms.

We’re only going as far as eyebrow-raising—we’ll leave consciousness-raising properties for other articles. The fact is that mushrooms are an incredibly interesting life form, probably under used by humans, with under-recognized health value.

And, our main point: mushrooms are incredibly tasty.

Porcini Mushrooms

PORCINI: Popular in Italian cooking, porcini are used fresh or dried and add a deep, nutty flavor to a dish.

oyster mushrooms

OYSTER: Yes, they look like oysters growing horizontally from a tree. Some say they have a vaguely oyster-like taste. They’re generally eaten cooked and are popular in Korean, Japanese and Chinese cooking.

Enoki mushroom

ENOKI: Lovely, long and white, cultivated enoki are used in Japanese cuisine, notably in soups. Generally eaten raw or barely cooked.

Shiitake mushrooms

SHIITAKE: Native to East Asia and used beyond the kitchen, Shiitake are widely believed to have medicinal uses as well.

Morel mushrooms

MORELS: With their distinctive tall honeycombed caps, morels are easy to identify, even though they come in a range of colors, from pale beige to gray. Morels are still harvested wild.

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Mary Brown Malouf
Mary Brown Malouf
Mary Brown Malouf is the late Executive Editor of Salt Lake magazine and Utah's expert on local food and dining. She still does not, however, know how to make a decent cup of coffee.

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