In the recent film, Fantastic Fungi, Paul Stamets and Michael Pollan and the other mycologists quoted in the film say that mushrooms can save the world, or at least parts of it. According to them, mushrooms hold answers to disease, pollution, anxiety, depression and global warming. There they are, a giant invisible network, right underfoot.
Mycologists point out to the network mycelia (that’s mushrooms and other fungus) that forms between the roots of trees, allowing them to communicate. They attribute all kinds of healing properties to various types of 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.
Mushrooms are one of the strangest foods to enter our kitchens. 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 survive in outer space, their underground networks on earth connect many living things. The point is that mushrooms are an incredibly interesting life form, probably underused by humans, with underrecognized health value.
And, our main point, they’re incredibly tasty.
MILLIONS OF MUSHROOMS
Most Americans are used to the unassuming button mushroom—Agaricus bisporus was first cultivated on horse manure in France in the 1700s and now make up 90 percent of all the mushrooms we eat. But there are 10,000 different types of mushrooms we know about so far. These are some of the more popular varieties you’ll see in markets and on plates.
ENOKI Lovely, long and white, cultivated enoki are used in Japanese cuisine, notably in soups. Generally eaten raw or barely cooked.
SHIITAKE Native to East Asia and used beyond the kitchen, shiitake are widely believed to have medicinal uses as well.
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.
PORCINI Popular in Italian cooking, porcini are used fresh or dried and add a deep, nutty flavor to a dish.
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.
Mushrooms on Menus:
These ingredients are epitome of spring—not much needs to be done to make them perfect when they’re in season: morels and asparagus. Oquirrh, 368 E. 100 South, SLC, 801-359-0426
Alpine nachos are a kitchen classic here: housemade chips topped with forest mushrooms, thin bits of speck and fontina cheese. Log Haven, 6451 Millcreek Canyon Rd., SLC, 801-272-8255, log-haven.com
Enoki are startlingly beautiful on the plate and Chef Sergei Oveson is wise not to dress them up—a minimum of herbs and dressing just sets off the pure mushrooms. Ramen Haus, 2550 Washington Blvd., Ogden, 801-393-0000
The salty sweet of ham is a natural companion to mushrooms; here, homemade ravioli is stuffed with mushrooms and combined with prosciutto for a pure Italian dish. Sicilia Mia, 4536 S. Highland Dr., SLC, 801-274-0223, go to siciliamia.com for other locations
Herb roasted potatoes with fungi, broccolini, Brussels sprouts, red bell peppers and a sage-mushroom gravy. Zest, 275 S. 200 West, 801-443-0589, zestslc.com