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Mushroom Mania

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Most kids love to eat mushrooms and most mothers love to cook them. Nowadays a variety of exotic mushroom recipes are to be found in books, magazines and on the Internet. But few know that the mushroom is actually a fungus.

Mushrooms are interesting plants. They have no roots, no stems, and no leaves, yet grow so fast you can almost see them shoot up!

Mushrooms are a type of fungi, which means they have no chlorophyll to manufacture their own food. They depend on other plants for food. It is important to know that mushrooms are found in several varieties all over the world, but not all are edible. In fact, some are so poisonous that eating them would mean certain death. So NEVER pick your mushrooms unless you know exactly what you are doing.

Button mushrooms, also called table mushrooms are the most common variety of edible mushrooms.

The part of the mushroom plant that rises above the ground is the only fruiting part of the fungus. The rest of the mushroom lies under the ground in the form of a mass of dense white tangled threads. These threads are called mycelium or spawn and are usually hidden under bark, rotten wood, leaves, etc. The mushroom obtains its food through their decomposition.

How do mushrooms reproduce?

A mushroom starts growing as mycelium threads. The mycelium threads grow from little spores, which are tiny dust like particles shed from the full grown mushroom. On these threads small whitish knobs of tissue bud out in an umbrella shape or in the form which is characteristic of each kind of mushroom.

Ever wondered what those lines under the mushroom umbrellas are? These are called gills, and they hold tiny spores. These spores drop out and are dispersed by the wind. When these spores land on surfaces where they find conditions favorable for growth, they grow into new mushrooms.

What are 'favourable conditions?'

Mushrooms need shade, warmth and moisture to grow well, and as a result they grow mostly in shady forested areas on in the bottoms of ravines. They are also seen to grow well in grassy meadows. But since mushrooms contain a lot of water they cannot grow in areas that have hot dry winds or are directly under the summer sun.

Edible varieties are often grown by man and sold at vegetable shops. Mushrooms are cultivated like other plants, but not in open fields. They are grown in special chambers under a controlled set of conditions such as humidity, temperature etc. To grow mushrooms one needs specialized training.

Nutritional value

Moms would be happy to note that mushrooms are rich in vitamins and minerals. They contain large amounts of vitamin B and potassium. Also, raw mushrooms are cholesterol free, fat free, and sodium free. They are also low in calories. Five medium-sized button mushrooms have only twenty calories.

Mushrooms have a mild, meaty flavour, and absorb other flavours very well. Just like potatoes and apples, table mushrooms oxidize very quickly when exposed to air. If mushrooms are sliced and exposed to air for more than ten minutes, they quickly soften, and turn a brownish color.

Now that you know all about mushrooms you can enjoy them even more!

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