Whether you’re planning to grow them, cook them, or eat them, there’s no denying that mushrooms are here to stay. 85% of Australian households purchase mushrooms regularly, and just over half of them shop for mushrooms weekly. Mushrooms may not look like much on the surface, but they do pack a punch in terms of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Plus, they make for a delicious, low in calories, high-protein, and fibre-rich food source to complement your meals. Use them in salads, soups, pasta, savoury tarts, or as flavourful sides.
But there’s a lot more to mushrooms than their robust earthy flavour and endearing nutritional profile. Here are 11 amazing facts about mushrooms you can’t miss out on!
11 Fun Facts About Mushrooms
1. It’s a Fruit; It’s a Vegetable. It’s A…
Mushrooms are neither fruits nor vegetables. They’re actually members of Kingdom Fungi. It’s the same family which produces mushrooms’ other closely related cousins — yeasts and moulds. More than 100,000 species of fungi have already been identified, but scientists believe the actual number of fungi species lies between 0.8 to 3.8 million. Many fungal species are still largely undiscovered.
2. 90% Of the Mushroom Lives under the Surface
What you see above the ground is just 1/10th part of the fungus. There’s a lot more going on underground, far from inquisitive eyes. The remaining 90% is a complex network of thread-like structures called mycelium spread across the soil. Individual threads or filaments are called hypha.
This underground network of mycelium has a lot of important roles to play, one of which is to produce enzymes that break down dead plants and other organic matter into simpler material that gets digested for food and nutrients, i.e., they don’t create food through photosynthesis like plants. It’s also the reason why mushrooms grow on places like forest floors, dead trees, and even in compost and manure. Mushroom growers typically mimic the same damp and dark conditions in sterile environments to help mushrooms grow and thrive.
3. A Mushroom’s Mycelium Network Can Live for Thousands of Years
Most mushrooms have a short life cycle; they may only live for a few days. But the fibrous mycelium networks that grow under the ground can stay relatively intact for hundreds or thousands of years.
4. Portobello Mushrooms Provide More Potassium than Bananas
If you abhor bananas, the good news is there are other alternatives that can compensate for the same nutritional profile. Take potassium, for example. Bananas are said to be a rich source of potassium, packing a whopping 358 mg worth in 100g of the fruit. 100g of raw portobello mushrooms provides 364mg of potassium in comparison. Other great sources of potassium include avocados, peanuts, almonds, pecans, citrus fruits, green leafy vegetables, milk, and potatoes.
5. Some Mushrooms Are Excellent Producers of Vitamin D When Exposed to Ultraviolet Light
Certain mushrooms like white mushrooms (button mushrooms), crimini mushrooms, portobello mushrooms, and maitake mushrooms produce Vitamin D when exposed to UV light (sunlight or an ultraviolet lamp). Read your mushroom packaging and labels or ask your grocer to learn whether the mushrooms you’re planning to buy are Vitamin-D enriched.
As long as you consume your edible mushrooms before the “best by” date, their “vitamin D2 level is likely to remain above 10 μg/100 g fresh weight, which is higher than the level in most vitamin D-containing foods and similar to the daily requirement of vitamin D recommended internationally.”
6. Some Mushrooms Glow in the Dark
Some mushroom varieties, like the Neonothopanus gardneri, exhibit bioluminescent properties, which in plain speak, means they can glow in the dark. It is thought that these mushrooms glow at night to attract insects that can help spread their spores. The glowing in the dark takes place when the mushroom produces a compound called oxyluciferin.
Spores contain all of the material required to form new mushrooms. These spores disperse and germinate in the soil when the conditions are right.
7. The Largest Living Organism on Earth Is a Mushroom
The largest living organism on earth is a mushroom species called Armillaria ostoyae. Although it was discovered in 1998, scientists estimate that this fungus is 2400 years old, but it’s possible it could be as old as 8650 years. Incredibly the Armillaria is bigger than the blue whale, which was until then the record holder for the largest living thing on the planet.
The Armillaria ostayae mushroom species is also more commonly known as honey mushrooms because of their distinctive yellow capping and sweet fruiting bodies.
8. The World’s Most Poisonous Mushroom Is Responsible for 90% Of the World’s Mushroom-Related Deaths
The Amanita phalloides, more commonly known as death cap mushrooms (and with good reason!), is known as the most poisonous mushroom in the world, able to kill an adult. They contain compounds called amatoxins which are responsible for 90% of the world’s mushroom-related fatalities. There is no antidote available for poisoning by death cap mushrooms.
Incidentally, mushroom poisoning is also known as toadstool poisoning.
Another type of mushroom called the Amanita muscaria, also called fly agaric or fly amanita, has sometimes been mistakenly consumed by people thinking it’s a hallucinogenic. While it’s not as fatal as the Amanita phalloides, it is poisonous and can cause people who consume it to become ill. Recovery from Amanita muscaria poisoning takes place within 12 hours of the onset of symptoms.
9. Some Edible Mushrooms Are Carnivorous
Some mushroom varieties, like oyster mushrooms, are carnivores. They’re vegan foods that eat meat! Oyster mushrooms eat nematodes, a juicy form of roundworm. They infect the nematodes with poison on contact and inject their filaments into the lifeless nematode bodies, dissolving the contents and then absorbing what’s left. The poor nematodes don’t stand a chance.
A mushroom called the Coprinus comatus or Shaggy Mane or Shaggy Ink Cap mushroom even eats itself (welcome to the weird and wonderful world of all things mushrooms!). These mushrooms must be eaten or processed as soon as they’ve been collected, as they tend to digest themselves after picking or expelling spores.
10. Mushrooms Have Been Used as Medicinal Substances for Thousands of Years
Ancient indigenous cultures have been using mushrooms as medicinal substances for thousands of years. The West has only just begun to study and explore the potential medicinal uses and other health benefits of mushrooms. The mushroom species Ganoderma lucidum has been prized as a vitality and vigour-enhancing herb for more than 2000 years in both China and Japan.
Mushrooms like reishi, shiitake, and maitake exhibit antitumor and immunostimulant properties potentially valuable in chemoprevention programs. Cordyceps mushrooms exhibit many properties that make them distinctly useful for maintaining good health. And the list goes on.
11. Mushrooms Are Farmer-Friendly
Mushrooms are the sixth most valuable horticultural crop grown in Australia. They’re remarkably farmer-friendly. According to the Mushroom Council in the U.S.:
- They don’t need much space to grow. Pounds of mushrooms can be grown in just a few acres of land.
- They need less water than other crops to grow and thrive. 1.8 gallons of water can produce a gallon’s worth of mushrooms.
- They require less electricity because they grow best in damp and shady environments. The only energy you’ll need is to harvest or monitor them!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How often should we eat mushrooms?
Research has shown that eating approximately 18 grams of mushrooms, which is equivalent to about two medium-sized mushrooms or a 1/8 cup serving, can reduce the risk of developing cancer by up to 45%. For optimal health benefits, it may be good to include mushrooms in your regular diet on a daily basis.
When did humans start eating mushrooms?
Mushrooms have been part of human diets for thousands of years. In Ancient Egypt, they were considered a delicacy, while in Ancient Greece, they were believed to possess magical properties. In Asia, mushrooms were often used in traditional medicine. Today, mushrooms are still widely enjoyed around the world and form an important part of many dishes.
What food value do we get from mushrooms?
Mushrooms offer numerous nutritional benefits that make them a valuable addition to your diet. By choosing to include mushrooms in your meals you can take advantage of their low calorie, low sodium content and the array of vitamins and minerals they provide — such as vitamin D, potassium, selenium, and copper. Additionally, these fungi are packed with antioxidants and polysaccharides that help support a healthy immune system and potentially reduce cancer risk. Plus, these tasty morsels also act as prebiotics for the gut, helping to stimulate the growth of good bacteria.
Final Thoughts On Mushroom Facts
Mushrooms are a great source of vitamins, antioxidants, and other vital nutrients. Their health benefits and medicinal value make them highly prized by humans. At the same time, there’s only so much much know about them. We hope this list of fascinating facts on mushrooms inspires your ongoing learning in the meantime.