Mushroom Basics

June 17, 2013

Mushroom Basics

Some people love them - and others don't - but there is no question that mushrooms have become a staple of all varieties of cooking. Here are some of the basics you need to know

Some people love them - and others don't - but there is no question that mushrooms have become a staple of all varieties of cooking, and they pack a seriously powerful nutrition punch. Most of us have tried a variety of mushrooms when eating out, and while supermarkets now stock up to 20 different varieties, it seems we're afraid to experiment. Some have unusual shapes, some are very expensive, and most of us don't know the flavor differences. Shiitakes, Porcinis or Maitakes have become the favorites of many chefs who use these varieties' nutty or earthy flavors to enhance meats, fish, pastas and veggies.

Back to basics. Just what is a mushroom? Mushrooms are fungi; they are set apart from plants and animals. Mushrooms contain no chlorophyll and most are considered saprophytes. That means that they obtain their nutrition from metabolizing non-living organic matter. Bottom line is that they break down and “eat” dead plants, similar to the way a compost pile does.

The body of the mushroom stores nutrients and other essential compounds, and when enough material is stored and the conditions are right they start to fruit - produce mushrooms.

Nutritionally speaking, mushrooms are extremely low in calories [under 10 per ounce] with practically no fat and notable amounts of B vitamins, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium and selenium as well as fiber. Overall, mushrooms are about 92 percent water.

How should you care for mushrooms? First off, don't peel the mushrooms; the skin is flavorful. Always use fresh mushrooms within a couple of days; do not store them in non-porous bags (use paper bags), as that will hasten their deterioration. Clean mushrooms with a soft brush or slightly dampened cloth. Remember too much water will destroy the mushroom. If you do wash mushrooms, rinse very briefly in cold water, shake gently to dry, and use them immediately. Never wash before storing. Use mushroom stems and trimming for stocks, stews, soups and sauces. When baking, broiling or grilling mushrooms, brush with olive oil first to prevent wrinkling.

Now that you know the basics, get out there are try cooking some mushrooms today!