Mushrooms are one of the three “m” foods that divide people. As I’m sure you guessed, marmite and marzipan make up the triangle. While I can’t fathom having issues with the other members of the “m” family, I can see — despite being an avid mushroom lover — how fungi might be unnerving. There is something neither fish nor fowl about mushrooms, so much so that there’s actual debate around whether vegans should eat them. Sigh.
There are several reasons why these curious entities — the “fruit” of mycelium spores — can seem a bit Day of the Triffids meets The Brothers Grimm.
They don’t have the sun-loving, bright logic of vegetables and true fruit, preferring gloom instead. A single specimen can spread its mycelia underground for kilometres (making giant mushrooms technically the largest organisms on the planet), and many varieties are deadly. Plus, while the musky funk of some varieties is all savoury umami deliciousness to fans, it’s repulsive to others.
A giant black mushroom roasted with garlic-parsley oil is far better as a burger alternative than the wretched meat-replacement pattiesAndrea Burgener
But love or loathe them, those in the know say we need to start embracing mushrooms. They’re potentially a very sustainable food source: many species can double their size in 24 hours once they’ve broken ground; they use relatively little space; and water evaporation is minimal. But much depends upon the growing substrates used, so, as usual, it’s complicated.
I wish current vegetarian and vegan cooking would embrace the mushroom as something that can stand on its own tendrilly feet. A giant black mushroom roasted with garlic-parsley oil is far better as a burger alternative than the wretched meat-replacement patties that are now spreading over supermarket shelves like a plague (or a fungus, if you prefer).
Why the “plant-based” food movement seems to result in so much over-processed kak can only be because it allows big business to sell items for a higher price.
A locally grown black mushroom? That seems kinda dull. But a mushroom, quinoa, and activated-charcoal patty? Now we’re talking. Begin your day with a mushroom-infused coffee — I’m not making it up — and you’re really styling.
If you’re a ’shroom hater, a good variety to get you into the groove is the enoki mushroom. With a very fine texture, teeny-tiny stems and caps, and a really delicate flavour, even the fungi-fearing may fall in love.
• Burgener is owner of and chef at The Leopard, 44 Stanley Avenue
• From the April edition of Wanted 2019.