Daleen Totten interviews Justin Williams about the marvels of mushrooms.
Q I was surprised to learn that mushrooms contain tannins, a polyphenol found in wine and tea. It was generally thought that foods rich in tannins have low nutritional value, but recent research indicates that it is due to inhibiting nutritional intake. Does this mean that when we consume mushrooms, we do not benefit from the nutritional value of the food we eat with the mushrooms?
A Certain species of cultivated mushrooms such as oyster, button and shiitake have been shown to contain trace amounts of tannins, which I believe is due to the substrate they are grown on, coffee grounds would be one such example. Mushrooms are certainly not rich in tannins and can still be enjoyed alongside other nutritional foods without negating their properties. In fact, they tend to contain amino acids, selenium, magnesium, calcium, zinc, B-vitamins and folic acid. Owing to the recycling nature of fungus, it is likely to pick up trace amounts of elements which are present in the substrate from which it grows. This applies to wild mushrooms too, and these varieties should not be gathered at roadsides or areas where the soil may be contaminated with metals.
Q Apparently, the growth of fungi, yeast and bacteria is inhibited by consuming fungi – so if you have a Candida infection, could eating fungi (mushrooms) resolve it?
A In terms of healing oneself from Candida infection, it is advisable to refrain from consuming fermented foods which would include pickled or marinated mushrooms. However, medicinal mushrooms such as reishii and chaga are known to be anti-Candida and tonics of these are now available at most health stores.
Q Is there a rule that will make it easy for us to distinguish between culinary/medicinal and poisonous mushrooms?
A Unfortunately there is no sure-fi re way to distinguish the harmful from the harmless when it comes to mushrooms. A good rule of thumb for beginners is to stay away from gathering mushrooms that have white gills under the cap. This feature is present in at least two of the deadly varieties we have in South Africa and I found it helped in the long run to first learn the poisonous varieties from the edible ones. For newcomers to foraging it is recommended to attend a course with an expert to learn the ropes and find out which edible species are worth harvesting and how sustainability can be applied to foraging. Field guides also come in handy for quick identification. No wild mushroom should ever be consumed without positively identifying it first.
Q When foraging for mushrooms, is there a particular time of the year we are sure to find mushrooms?
A Here in the Cape, there are sure to be mushrooms around several days after the first big autumn rains have passed through. This window usually starts in April or May every year and can last a few months. In the northern, summer rainfall regions of South Africa this usually begins around October or November.
Q Should you be so lucky as to collect a whole lot of gourmet mushrooms, can you just dry them in the oven (or sun) and save them for use in soups, stew or as a tea? Do you need to prepare them first?
A Preparation is always important. I prefer to dry mushrooms in the sun to make the process as natural as possible. They can be brought in at night and put out the next morning, on a raised mesh platform to ensure ventilation underneath the slices. This method works beautifully for porcini mushrooms which should take about three days to dry. In this dried state, they can keep for a long time, and are perfect when added to pastas, risottos, soups and stews. My business, First Light Foods, sells porcini preserved in this manner, alongside porcini mushroom dust and porcini salt. Another way of preserving mushrooms is to pickle them, an ancient practice that is very popular in Central and Eastern Europe.
For more on mushrooms, please visit Justin’s website: www.firstlightfoods.co.za