Mushrooms — easy vegetarian nutrition, tasty meat alternative

Once consumed by people in the lowest rung of society to satiate hunger in times of food scarcity and drought, mushrooms are now a five-star dish

Prominent in Chinese, Japanese and Korean cuisines, mushrooms have been consumed in Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu too where people knew which mushrooms were edible

Particularly in Tamil Nadu, shepherds and palm growers have cooked with mushrooms for generations. But some mushroom varieties can be fatally poisonous

Over time, culinary experts in developed countries built up knowledge on picking edible mushrooms and cooking them right. Thus started a boom in cultivation

There are several types of edible mushrooms. Yet it is not advisable to eat an unidentified mushroom; It is better to buy from the market or from mushroom farms

One can tell poisonous mushrooms from their dense colour and bad odour when ripe. If mushrooms turn bluish when mixed with sliced onions, they are not edible

Mushrooms range from egg shaped ones to imperceptible microscopic kinds. They are classified into cup-shaped, egg-shaped, oyster-shaped and fungus types

Mushrooms have no green leaves and do not go through photosynthesis. Therefore, they are parasitic and subsist on the sap from the trees on which they grow

Mushrooms grow from seed powder, and decay as fast as they grow. As a food, they are a rich source of Vitamin D and help improve heart health and reduce body mass

A type of fungus known as penicillium is used in manufacturing the antibiotic penicillin, while other varieties are used to produce alcoholic beverages

Mushrooms have gained the respectability and acceptability of meat in the culinary world, and are also sold in fish markets in Southeast Asian countries

In India, mushrooms are available in supermarkets in the cities, and in vegetable shops in smaller towns, as local small farmers cultivate them

In Tamil Nadu, Mushroom farming is a cottage industry, in which youth are trained by the Department of Agriculture

In the old days, villagers collected egg-shaped mushrooms, mixed them with pepper, and baked them in palm leaf pits in the fire

The dish was called ‘panai olai pothiyal’ (pudding in palm leaf) and was eaten during the rainy season, when the ‘fungus’ literally “mushroomed” all over the place

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