Mushrooms are a bit of an enigma when you think about it. They certainly aren’t animals, and they are vegetarian? But are they a vegetable? Well, the short answer before we continue is… no they are not. In this article we are going to have a detailed look at mushrooms, so next time you are asked the question you will know the answer.
What Is A Mushroom?
Try not to be revolted, but mushrooms are actually a type of edible fungi. Whilst they are not a vegetable as such, they contain many of the same nutritional values, in fact pound for pound they contain about 3 times the amount of antioxidants of most vegetables! In North America alone there are over 50,000 types of mushrooms, so there should be plenty to choose from if you are trying to find something to throw in your latest dish. (Caution: not all mushrooms are edible, in fact some can be poisonous!).
Is Mushroom A Vegetable?
Mushrooms are not classified as a vegetable as they have no roots or leaves. They do not produce seeds either. In fact, unlike most vegetables and plants, many mushroom species do not even need light to grow and are cultivated in relative darkness. Unlike plants, mushrooms do not produce seeds either. They effectively ‘spread’ by releasing tens of millions of tiny particles called ‘spores’.
These land in favorable locations and providing the conditions are just right, mushrooms will appear! When grown commercially every single aspect of the climate is controlled in order to ensure the right growing conditions. This includes monitoring the light, temperature, acidity of the bed they are grown on, and the humidity.
Types Of Edible Mushrooms
We are sure you will have encountered a large variety of mushrooms. The most famous is probably the white mushroom, also known as a Champignon mushroom, a button mushroom or a table mushroom. You may have seen similar mushrooms that are slightly darker they are often know as chestnut mushrooms or brown mushrooms. There’s also chanterelle mushrooms which we’ve made the recipe for.
Portobello mushrooms tend to be significantly larger with an open cap. They make an ideal choice for grilling or roasting as they have a firm meaty structure and the open cap can be stuffed with various herbs, spices and fillings. One of our favorites as a simple mix of garlic, breadcrumbs, a chopped green onion and cheese!
Oriental mushrooms have started to feature heavily in western diets and stores. Shiitake mushrooms (you can stop giggling; they are also known as Chinese mushrooms) have a slightly earthy taste and a really firm consistency. Oyster mushrooms are particularly great in a stir fry. Their pale flesh and light taste are aided by their thin size which means they cook through in a relatively short amount of time.
How To Store Mushrooms
When they are growing, mushrooms absolutely love moisture and need it to thrive. However once they are picked they take a little bit of care, if you want to keep them fresher for longer. If they are kept somewhere that they can’t breathe then they will become dry very quickly. Although dried mushrooms can be used in cooking, leaving them out certainly isn’t the way to do it.
Likewise, if a mushroom comes into water, it can shorten its shelf life significantly. Mushrooms are like little sponges and will absorb and water that they come into contact with. As a result, they will turn soggy and then tend to decay. So, if you are intending to store your mushrooms, don’t wash them until you are ready to use them. A happy medium to storing mushrooms is to unpack them and leave them in a paper bag.
If your mushrooms have been around for a while a good way to store them is to briefly cook them and then freeze them in an airtight container or Ziplock bag, once they are cool. You should know how long mushrooms last in the fridge if you intend to store them there.
How To Prepare Mushrooms
As we have said mushrooms and water are not friends. If you soak mushrooms in water it will significantly change the cooking characteristics and flavor. The best way to clean mushrooms is to take a damp (not wet) paper towel or kitchen cloth and give them a gentle wipe to remove any small particles of soil that are adhering to either the cup or stem. If they are particularly dirty you may be able to give them a quick blast under a faucet, but ensure that you dry them immediately after rinsing.
If you ever find yourself running out of mushrooms and need a substitute for mushrooms, we have a post on that.
Can You Eat Mushrooms Raw?
It is safe to eat mushrooms (store bought) raw. It is generally accepted however that, unlike vegetables, the nutritional value of mushrooms is actually released with cooking. Mushrooms contain a compound called chitin; this inhibits the human body from absorbing the goodness found in mushrooms. By cooking at a high temperature, the chitin is broken down, allowing your body to absorb the nutrients found in mushrooms.
Overall, our recommendation is that you cook mushrooms before eating them. Digestion benefits aside they taste better too as some of the sugars contained within the mushroom caramelize on the surface giving that slightly savory taste.
So, there we have it. Mushrooms are certainly not a vegetable. They lack any of the qualities found in nature that would qualify them as such. However, they are super tasty and are ideal in stir fries, on burgers or even chopped and made into burgers themselves. As a meat free alternative, they provide an ideal source of protein for vegetarians, in fact tofu is derived from mushrooms, as is Quorn, so they make a great meat free substitute. You know how to wash them and store them, next time you are at the store, put mushrooms on the menu.