Mushrooms are having a moment
They’re popping up in papads, jams and cakes; as health boosts in bread and coffee; and in urban gardens
“People are realising that mushrooms are a real superfood,” says Anuradha Srivastava, a food technologist at the Indian Council of Agricultural Research - Directorate of Mushroom Research (ICAR-DMR) in Himachal Pradesh. “They contain no sugar, so they’re ideal for diabetics. They’re good for those with high blood pressure or cholesterol and they contain many of the trace nutrients that our bodies need.”
At the government-run ICAR-DMR, innovations have led to a versatile mushroom powder that is being used to make a multigrain mushroom bread, biscuits and papads. Their mushroom pickles are also now widely available across the country and on e-commerce platforms. The R&D team is now working on a mushroom spread, murabba, and a mushroom bhujiya.
The mushroom coffee mix available with The Mushroom Co is infused with cordyceps mushroom extract, a type of mushroom that is known to be a mild aphrodisiac and is widely used for medicinal purposes. ( Courtesy: The Mushroom Co )
Brands like Urban Platter have a range of mushroom powders to choose from. Wholesalers like The Mushroom Co have branched out into the quirky as well. “We make a coffee mix infused with cordyceps mushroom extract, known to be a mild aphrodisiac and widely used for its medicinal and strengthening effects,” says founder Rohhaan Gawde.
“As chefs return to local, season produce, mushrooms are becoming a favourite ingredient because of their ability to absorb other flavours,” says Sarah Edwards, a recipe developer who runs Copper & Cloves in Bengaluru. “They’re also easy to cook, with a subtle nutty flavour that complements sauces, savoury dishes and certain desserts.”
Masque restaurant in Mumbai serves handpicked wild morels in a variety of ways, including as a foam. The dish, simply called Morels, Almond, is served with almond ricotta dusted with dehydrated plum powder. ( Courtesy: Masque )
Their fleshy texture and high-protein content make them a go-to meat substitute.
Prateek Sadhu of Masque in Mumbai sources wild morels from Kashmir and serves them up in a variety of ways — including as a foam. They can be eaten with sunchoke and turmeric in one dish and with almond ricotta dusted and dehydrated plum powder in another.
“There are just so many varieties. I’ve found that the best way to get new varieties of mushrooms popular in households, is to put them on a menu,” says Edwards.
GROW THEM YOURSELF
Mushrooms are also relatively easy to grow. “I’ve grown elm oyster, pink oyster, shitake and king oyster mushrooms,” says Namrata Goenka, a former patent lawyer who now grows mushrooms full-time. “Some varieties sell for up to Rs 1,500 a kilo,” she says.
Goenka is in the process of expanding, via a commercial unit in Bengaluru that will contain temperature-, light-, humidity- and nutrition-controlled chambers.
Pink, king and elm oyster mushrooms grown by former patent lawyer Namrata Goenka (bottom ( Courtesy: Namrata Goenka )
There are over 50 varieties of edible mushrooms identified in the Western Ghats alone.
“Nutritional fungi pack quite the punch. They are 90% water, because of which it’s a low calorie vegetable and ideal for weight watchers. They are rich in potassium and low in sodium, which benefit patients of hypertension and cardiac disease,” says Geetanjali Mengi, a clinical dietician. “But most importantly, they are rich in selenium and phytonutrients that act as a barrier against toxins, and B complex vitamins that are vital for the nervous system.”