Mushrooms – woodland delicacies
Chanterelles, porcini, shiitake and truffles are just four of the many different mushroom varieties growing on our planet. In fact, there are over 5,000 different kinds of mushrooms in Europe alone. But what exactly are mushrooms? Vegetables? Tubers? Or something altogether different? Actually, mushrooms are biologically closer to animals than plants. They are a type of fungi – the spore-bearing fruit of microorganisms that live under the ground in the warm forest earth.
Mushrooms are a very healthy food because they are up to 90 percent water and contain just 20 kilocalories per 100 grams, which makes them very low in calories. Mushrooms also contain important B vitamins and vitamin D. Despite all these healthy attributes, always take care when picking mushrooms in the wild because 150 of the varieties that grow in Europe are poisonous. Your safest bet is the farmer’s market or supermarket, because they definitely don’t sell any poisonous mushrooms. Cooking mushrooms is very simple: just fry or grill the fresh mushrooms and add some herbs. Mushroom dishes taste even better if you add your favourite Kikkoman sauce.
The mushroom “who is who”
Champignons or button mushrooms are the most well-known variety of mushroom in the world. You can buy them all year round in jars and tins, but the fresh ones always taste best and they’re also far more wholesome. These healthy woodland fungi contain a generous amount of vitamin B and protein. They typically have firm white flesh and a round “cap”. Champignons are unique in the mushroom world because they are the only mushroom variety that can be eaten raw, e.g. as a salad ingredient. If you prefer to cook your mushrooms, champignons make a great creamy sauce or soup. Different sized champignons can also be threaded onto a skewer to make a delicious barbecue snack, and they’re perfect for quick pasta dishes.
Chanterelles and porcini are wild mushrooms. They cannot be commercially farmed and only grow in woodland if the conditions are perfect - they thrive on damp soil and plenty of sunshine. Chanterelles are popular for their mild, savoury flavour. You can fry them or add them to a spaghetti dish, use them to create a delicious soufflé or as a side dish to fish. They are very popular with mushroom lovers in autumn, which is their peak season. Porcini mushrooms have a slightly nutty flavour that makes them ideal for rice and pasta dishes. The classic porcini dish is risotto.
Shiitake mushrooms are the number one Asian fungi. They have been used there for centuries as both food and a remedy. Today the Asian mushrooms are also widely available in the western world. Many cooks prefer to use dried shiitake because the drying process brings out their umami, that special full-bodied flavour that makes Kikkoman Naturally Brewed Soy Sauce so special. If you want to experience umami for yourself, add a few shiitake mushrooms to your vegetables, or fry them as a side dish to accompany chicken, meat or fish.
Truffles are the most expensive mushrooms in the world. They’re a genuine luxury food and both the black and the white varieties are very rare. Most are found in the woodland areas of France, Italy and Australia. Black truffles are often used as an ingredient in fish and meat dishes. White truffles are generally grated over the dish once it has been put on the plate to add that characteristic truffle flavour.
Important things to know about mushrooms
- Mushrooms should always have a smooth and undamaged surface. The end of the stem, where it has been cut, should look fresh and not be wrinkled.
- Fresh mushrooms feel dry, firm and velvety. If they feel damp and slimy, throw them away.
- Fresh mushrooms have a pleasant woodland aroma. Don’t ever use mushrooms that smell mouldy.
- If possible, use the mushrooms the day you buy them. If you’ve bought them to cook for the next day, wash them thoroughly and place them in a clean tea towel in your refrigerator’s vegetable drawer.
- You’ve probably heard the myth that you can’t re-heat mushrooms. It’s not true. You can reheat them without a problem if you follow two simple rules. The dish containing the mushrooms should be allowed to cool quickly after cooking and then be put straight into the fridge. Then you can reheat it without a problem on the next day as long as you heat them up to at least 70 degrees Celsius to kill any possible germs.