Why the mushroom trend is showing no sign of stopping

19 October 2021, 07:52 AM
  • Versatile, flavour- and texture-packed mushrooms can boost immunity, replace meat and even eat up plastic, reports Sally-Jayne Wright
Why the mushroom trend is showing no sign of stopping

Mushrooms doubled their online value year on year to April 2021, adding £34m and 2.2m shoppers. While veg in general had a great year – up 11.5% in value – mushrooms were one of the best performing sectors and the second-largest category by value (Kantar figures supplied by The UK and Ireland Mushroom Producers).

Why are mushrooms mushrooming?

They tick three major trends: plant-based eating, eating to boost immune health, and sustainability. Let’s deal with each in turn.

By plant-based eating, do you mean meat-free ready meals like burgers, lasagnes ands sausages?

Yes, mushroom powder helps to add deep, savoury oomph to the soy, pea or wheat gluten (seitan) content of meat protein substitutes. If you think of mushrooms as fruits sprouting above ground, there are vast and rambling tangles of hyphae or fungal threads underground.

Like the roots of a tree, they grope their way through the earth in search of nutrients and mass together to form mycelium. They are high in protein and already structured, which makes it easier to press them together into meat-like products. No wonder, in July this year, Meati, a US company, raised US$50m of investment for its meat substitutes made from fungus.

Sales of fresh mushrooms are booming, so surely consumers must be scratch cooking too?

They certainly are. Vegetarian Xanthe Nathan, 22, is typical. Yes, she buys Plant Pioneers Shroomdogs from the supermarket, but she also purchases fresh oyster mushrooms to batter and deep fry at home because “they taste almost like fried chicken”.

In 2020, Tesco reported that sales of Brown Oyster Cluster and King Oyster mushrooms had more than doubled thanks to their meat-like texture.

How do mushrooms fit into the health and immunity trend?

An 80g serving of mushrooms counts as one of your five-a-day. As well as vitamin B, zinc, potassium and selenium, mushrooms contain a soluble fibre called beta glucan. This compound activates parts of the immune system and can boost the body’s ability to fight infection.

I’ve seen packaged mushrooms apparently ‘enriched’ with immune-boosting vitamin D. What’s that about?

Mushrooms grown in the dark contain only small amounts of the sunshine vitamin. By exposing them to UV lamps, growers have bumped up the content, thus increasing their appeal to dairy and fish-avoiders.

In 2016 Tesco launched the first UK range of Vitamin-D enriched mushrooms. 2021 saw the introduction of Marks & Spencer’s Chestnut Mushrooms Enriched with Vitamin D and B6. A third of a 300g packet gives you 100% of your nutrient reference value (NRV) of Vitamin D and a third of your B6.

I’ve read mushrooms can be grown in vertical farms, giving them a smaller carbon footprint. True?

Yes, and they can be grown in waste coffee grounds and use less water than is required for beef production. One day they may be the answer to plastic pollution. Scientists have discovered strains of fungi that can use enzymes and the brute force of their mycelia to break down polyurethane – the plastic found in packing foam.

Never mind packing foam, we sell food. How do we make the most of the trend?

When editors at BBC Good Food ran a pie poll in 2020, readers voted steak, ale and mushroom pie their favourite. Three out of four quarterfinalist recipes contained fungi. So don’t be shy about putting mushroom pies, pasties, stroganoffs, goulash, pâtés and soups on your menus.

Are truffles mushrooms?

Truffles are underground tubers – prized because they can’t be cultivated. Sales of truffle products – genuine article or not – continue to do well because they feel luxurious. Could you steal a trick from fine food specialist, Tartufaia in London’s Borough Market and premium-ise your mushroom pâté with a dash of white truffle oil?

Any more fungal tips?

Grow-your-own-mushroom kits make great gifts, as do cookery and mushroom-growing courses, live or on Zoom. Appeal to foodies with a good range of wild fungi in season and pop the occasional marinated mushroom into your gourmet sandwiches to showcase your jarred range. We still remember a sumptuous salt beef sandwich from The Georgian restaurant in London’s Balham because of the yummy ‘shroom in the salad filling.

Whose products do you recommend?

Serious cooks prize condiments such as mushroom ketchup because they ramp up flavour. Burren Balsamics has a new Umami Mushroom Powder which we used to add depth to a
home-made coq au vin.

For sheer novelty value, how about Fungtn’s new non-alcoholic beers made in London using medicinal mushrooms or myco adaptogens. Launched in September 2020, the vegan and gluten-free brand includes an IPA brewed with Lion’s Mane mushrooms, a Citra Beer brewed with Reishi mushrooms and a lager brewed with Charga mushrooms.

Will mushrooms continue to mushroom in popularity?

Absolutely. They tick so many boxes. Did you know that the many mycelia made by fast growing oyster mushrooms can be made into building materials that, kilo for kilo, are stronger than concrete? One day fungi may be holding your shop up. Imagine that.

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