Magical mushrooms are coming and they’ve got some damn funky names. Reishi, chaga, cordyceps, lion’s mane and scarlet elf cups to name just a few.
Many fungi are considered medicinal, because they produce adaptogenic compounds that have been found to assist in stress and post-cancer treatment, among other benefits.
Mushrooms are also tapping into other trends, like gut health and the infusion of Eastern medicine into Western products.
The value of the global mushroom market is expected to exceed $50bn (£37bn) in the next seven years due to growing mushroom demand, as consumers look to bring functional foods like mushrooms into their diets, reports Grand View Research.
But it’s not just mushrooms with medicinal qualities that are gaining ground, with more unusual varieties showing up on chef’s chopping boards. So why make room for more ‘shrooms?
A boom for ‘shrooms
James Wood, a forager for mushrooms from Totally Wild Food, tells Food Spark that the common closed cup mushrooms found at most major supermarkets were all people knew about the vegetable for a long time.
“Recently, a larger range of mushrooms have become commercially available, including chestnut, oysters and even chanterelle, and I believe this has sparked an interest in people as to what other mushrooms may be available,” he says.
There are also amazing flavours to be found in mushrooms, says Wood, “such as the aniseed funnel that has an aniseed flavour, or the hen of the woods which has a marmite-like flavour.
“Then there are others that hold incredible textures, like chicken of the woods, which has the texture of chicken,” he says. “Having discovered this, the potential for using fungi within food has grown massively, and the ability to explore these areas is increasing exponentially.”
Even Whole Foods put mushrooms on their 2018 trend list, predicting they will increasingly appear in products like coffee, broths and chocolate powders. In Los Angeles, the café Lifehouse Tonics is already serving up mushroom beverages, including coffees and shakes made with extracts from medicinal mushrooms.
Finnish entrepreneur Tero Isokauppila, a 13th-generation mushroom forager and founder of Four Sigmatic Foods, sells over 20 products in the US and has a mushroom coffee café in Venice Beach called The Shroom Room (of course). The buzz around mushroom coffee is that it’s not acidic and doesn’t cause the jitters, but still has the energising effect, says Isokauppila.
- Glistening ink caps: taste great and can be used fresh or salted. Do not travel well – left in a basket overnight they turn into a puddle of black ink. Can be used in an intense mushroom sauce, served with wood-flamed beef and foamed cheese.
- Beefsteak fungus: looks like a piece of beef but with a slight acidic taste. Goes well thinly sliced with cold meats.
- Trooping funnel: substantial in size, deep flavour, fry well and work perfectly in stews. Similar to porcini mushrooms. However, they can be confused for a range of potentially lethal fungi.
So what are some of the whacky wild varieties that can be brought in from the woods? Well, expect to see scarlet elf cups popping up in chef’s kitchens in the next couple of months, according to Wood – and they certainly tick the Instagram box.
“Firstly, they’re a wild mushroom growing at a time when very few other fungi are around, meaning they fill a gap. Even better, they’re vibrant red in colour and that colour holds whilst the fungi is cooked, meaning chefs can get really vibrant colour in to their dishes,” he says.
Jelly ear mushrooms should also be on chef’s radars, says Wood, because they can be made into interesting things.
“In the past, we’ve turned ours into frozen chocolate jellies, which tasted amazing,” he says. “People within the food industry should look to explore the world of fungi a little deeper so they can stay at the forefront of what they do – think making sweets out of mushrooms or setting jelly with a mushroom.”
Plus, the preference for meat substitutes and an increasing vegan focus also means a boost for the mushroom market, as they are a rich protein source. But retailers and manufacturers do have to grapple with the short shelf life for mushrooms, while cultivation is heavily labour intensive and requires high operational costs, says Grand View Research.
With a range of colours, sizes and tastes, plus medicinal health claims, magic mushrooms might have taken on a new meaning. What does Sparkie think?
The overall desire for healthy ingredients is not going away any time soon so there may well be value in jumping on some of these consumer desires, simply because nobody else is. The other draw for mushrooms is that it’s naturally high in umami, and although the vast majority of shoppers still don't know the rudiments of umami, they do understand that it must be something tasty.
Cordyceps, reishi and chaga are already being put into products in the US. Overall, the trend is that the mushrooms that are used for Chinese medicines are being pushed as a new healthy food additive. Boletus are also a notable culinary one and will only grow stronger in stature.
The only thing that holds any ingredient back is availability and price, so until an ingredient is used, blogged, demanded or proliferated through the culinary scene, it won’t see a listing with mainstream retailers and food-service companies.