What are Fungi? 

Fungus cannot make their own food, but it has one of the most critical jobs in the nutrient cycle of the entire ecosystem. Mushrooms are a spore-bearing fruiting body of a fungus. Kind of like ‘not all whiskey is scotch, but all scotch is whiskey.’ Fungi cannot make their own babies. Yet the reproductive entity produced by some fungi is mushrooms. In short, mushrooms are fungi. Fungi comprise mushrooms, mildews, and molds. But what exactly is a truffle? Besides being some of the most expensive ingredients on the planet, truffles are fungi that grow amongst tree roots underground. Truffles are pedicular.  

Some very cool things about fungi:
1. Fungi are not animal or plant
2. Fungi contribute to the circle of life in countless ways.
3. Fungi processes and preserves food waste – It eats, and it feeds
4. Fungi can breakdown a human body or an animal
5. Fungi is a key ingredient in bread, wine, or spirit that someone consumes

Typically fungal mycology focuses on fungi damage. Nowadays, more attention is given to fungal products that add health, agriculture, and industry value. Fungal enzymes have positively impacted the production of leather, paper, and textiles. Enzymes used in animal feed, baking, and juice have increased the value of biological raw materials. Almost the entire plant species are dependent on fungi. Fungi nutrients are the lifeline for both plants and animals. Plants and trees take up the nutrients and water from the fungi, and in exchange, the trees and plants feed the fungi sugars made during photosynthesis. Some fungi belonging to the group hyphomycetes are used against insects and pests. The advantage of fungi for controlling insect pests is that they generally are safe to use around mammals and are easy to reproduce. A disadvantage is that kill time can belong, and conditions must be relatively humid.

Four major fungi groups
1. Zygomycota – is most frequently encountered
2. Ascomycota (sac fungi) – sources of medicinally essential compounds for humans
3. Basidiomycota (club fungi) – Some of the most familiar fungi, such as mushrooms
4. Deuteromycota (fungi imperfecti) – cause both plant and human diseases

Four primary fungus uses
1. Pest control
2. Model research organisms
3. Food or as an ingredient
4. To produce citric acid, antibiotics, and human hormones

Mushroom Deep-dive
Mushrooms grow within the mycelium. Mushrooms are fruiting bodies created from substrates. There are seventy-plus mushrooms reported as food. Roughly two dozen perfected cultivation techniques. Six farmed on a large scale are Oyster, Button, Milky, Shiitake, Paddy straw, and Jew’s Ear mushrooms. Mushroom habitat in a great variety of places. Some prefer pastures, others earth, or even rotting wood. Some mushrooms are particular to the type of tree they grow under or on. Most mushroom species are:

Ectomycorrhizal: thrives in roots of live woody plants

Saprotrophs: digests dead organic compounds

Truffles grow near tree roots of beech, oak, hazel, pine, poplar, birch, and hornbeam trees. These scrumptious fungi have been found and cultivated all over the world in Europe, Australia, Asia, North Africa, North America, and New Zealand.

The scent and taste truffles produce are often earthy, pungent, and musky. These fungi must be foraged from under the soil, making them difficult to find. Trained dogs for centuries have assisted truffle hunters on their foraging trips. Truffles are picky; they require specific weather conditions and soil chemistry. As a result, there are only a handful of truffle farmers worldwide.

There are only two types of truffles hunted for culinary delight. The black and white truffles are prized seasonal fungi with varying growth patterns. Black truffles are easier to find. They prefer moderate weather under oak trees in France, Italy, Spain, Slovenia, and Croatia, only harvested in the Fall. White truffles are difficult to find. They reside in mineral-rich soil around the roots of beech, oak, and hazel trees in Italy.
While black and white truffles are the most popular, you can also find other truffles

Chinese Truffle: These Himalayan truffles are blander than the European truffles

Pecan Truffle: Grown under a pecan tree in the southern US

Summer Truffle: Similar to a black truffle, found in Italy and the UK under dead trees

Truffles are one of the most expensive foods on the planet because they taste incredible, are so difficult to grow, are hard to find, and are challenging to store for a while. On the other hand, truffles are simply perfect fresh. You can fridge them for a few weeks, freeze them for just a couple of months, or infuse them in oil. Just be sure not to leave chunks of truffles in the oil, or it will go rancid. 

Eating Fungus

Explore the taste profiles of edible mushrooms

Black Trumpet: Found late summer in the Midwest or East side of North America. They have a rich, umami flavor similar to black truffle and the look of a mini oyster mushroom.
Brown Beech: The nutty, buttery flavor makes these small clustered mushrooms a perfect addition to pasta dishes from stir-fry to risotto.
Chanterelles: Equally gorgeous as delicious; these premium, woody flavored mushrooms are a showstopper.
Cremini: Off the same strain as portabellas and white buttons mushrooms, these are often marked as Baby Bellas. They are more flavorful than white button mushrooms, making them perfect to add to rich, creamy dishes.
Enoki: These dainty, odd bunch of mushrooms have a sweet, mild flavor. Typically used in Asian dishes. They are wonderful in soups or salads.
Hedgehog: This late-season sweet, nutty mushroom comes small and large. Treat these like chanterelles, sauté them in butter, and enjoy!
Jelly Ear: The texture, similar to tofu, picks up flavors while adding a light earthy note.
King Oyster: Packed with savory, aromatic flavors; these odd-looking, meaty mushrooms have a similar texture to scallops. Serve well as the main course.
Lion’s Mane: Also similar to a seafood-like texture. White in color, resembling the shape of a weeping willow, making a perfect substitution in a crab cake.
Maitake: Known as the hen of the woods they stand on their own as the most flavorful mushroom around. Great in soups, sauces, or even raw.
Matsutake: This “Pine Mushroom” is from the West Coast of the US and is prized in Japan. They have a sweet and cinnamon spicy flavor and are best sliced thin over a soup.
Morels: This is a luxury mushroom stock full of deep, nutty flavors. These are only found in the wild making them one of the most expensive mushrooms.
Oyster: These briny, mild mushrooms are best cooked due to their slightly metallic flavor when raw. They are one of the most commonly cultivated varieties.
Paddy Straw: Slightly musty yet delicate, these South Asian mushrooms are wonderful stir-fried.
Porcini: These are an excellent meat replacement due to their thick, hearty texture. These are more intense, perfect for mushroom coinsures.
Portabella: These large rich meaty mushrooms are great in Italian cuisine. These versatile fungi can even be marinated and treated like steak. Enjoy grilled on a BBQ!
Shiitake: These are best enjoyed in stock or fermented their savory, slightly smoky flavor is well-suited to a variety of cuisines.
Truffles: Truffles offer slightly different flavors, are available at different times of the year, and are best simply shaved atop your dish. These are truly something to be had – the gem under the soil.
White Button: Finally, we finish off with the most widely produced and consumed mushroom in the United States. They are extremely mild, versatile, easy to prep, can be used in many dishes both cooked and raw.

When buying fresh mushrooms pay attention to their moisture. Spotty and slimy fungi are bad. Make sure they are dry, firm, and smooth. Younger mushrooms are firmer with less flavor while more mature mushrooms taste better but may become slimy when cooked. That said, purchasing sliced mushrooms have more surface exposed to air and break down more quickly. Purchase whole mushrooms if you plan to store them any longer than a day or two. Gourmet mushrooms require refrigeration around 32 degrees to protect them from decay. Moisture can cause mushrooms to break down faster so feel free to store your mushrooms unopened or in a folded paper bag until you use them. Remember mushrooms are pores and only need to be rinsed prior to consumption.  

Drinking Mushrooms

Yeast is a member of the fungus kingdom that drastically changed the world. It originated millions of years ago, showing Homosapiens how to bake booze. Nutritional yeast offers several valuable health benefits.  Not only is the yeast used in bread, but brewer’s yeast also makes beer. During fermentation of grapes, grains, or other ingredients yeast cells convert sugars into CO2 and ethanol resulting in delicious wines or liquors.  

“Tea fungus” AKA Scoby is used to convert sugars and tea into a popular beverage known as kombucha. Many people love to make this fermented beverage at home and enjoy its probiotic benefits. Consumers have taken to mushroom teas mental health, immunity boost, and stress reduction. As a coffee alternative mushroom coffee blends have gone mainstream offering roughly 50 percent of the caffeine. Consequently, mushroom cocktails have surged across the country as functional beverage standards become the new normal.