High on ‘shrooms: taking mushrooms to the next stage

A recent report suggests that more could be done with fungi, nature’s proven healer.

10 October 2017
functional foodingredientsmushroomsnutritionvegetables

With everyone on the lookout for new superfoods, we might be underutilising an ingredient found in every British wood. We’re talking about the mushroom, a common constituent of fried breakfasts; a versatile plant that chefs have a lot of fun playing with, be it shiitake or portobello. But there could be realms of possibilities as yet undiscovered.

A nutritional review in Trends in Food Science and Technology suggests that there are other futures on the horizon for mushrooms, which have been proven (unlike many other allegedly healthful substances) to have numerous benefits. Experiments have shown that different kinds of fungi can prevent tumours, lower cholesterol and improve cardiovascular function. They are also antiviral, anti-parasitic and – ironically – anti-fungal. In particular, the champignon mushroom has been shown to possess a potent antibacterial function, as well as improve liver and heart function. That’s quite a list of accomplishments.

Have more fun(gi)

People are already being inventive with mushrooms – just look at Cub – but it has potential to go further. For example, how about using mushrooms as flour? That’s one of the possibilities raised in the report, which suggests mushrooms could be employed to make bread, as they are high in fibre and have more positive effects compared to cereal flours. A few studies have already been done where flours made with different percentages of fine mushroom powder were used to bake loaves – to varying degrees of success in terms of getting texture and composition right.

Mushrooms could also make excellent functional foods, i.e. processed products that mix health-giving extracts into edible items. One research team has toyed with a mushroom-bolstered cheese, for instance. In an age when the word ‘natural’ is of profound importance to the average person, using plant extracts to boost the body has obvious attractions.

“One of the benefits of incorporating mushroom extracts would be the umami taste which may enable the salt content to be reduced without compromising taste,” says registered nutritionist Dr. Laura Wyness, who also notes how growing fungi in different conditions can add to their arsenal. “Mushrooms are a source of vitamin D when grown under UV light, so this could be a benefit of incorporating mushroom extracts into products, as low vitamin D levels are widespread in the UK population.”

Nutraceuticals made from mushrooms are commonly sold in digital and physical supplement stores, but the possibility to incorporate them into other commercial environments awaits further exploration. We don’t want to morel-ise, but this is one ex-cep-tional foodstuff.

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