Mushrooms are surrounded by myths and outdated beliefs. Misconceptions swing both ways, from the assumption that mushrooms are gross because they grow in excrement to the — much more dangerous — belief that all foraged species are safe to eat or can be identified by their smell.
Clearing up some of these common misunderstandings will allow you to enjoy mushrooms for all the amazing qualities they actually possess and keep yourself safe in the meantime.
A common misconception is that mushrooms are grown in poop. While mushrooms certainly can be grown in livestock manure, it isn't necessary and doesn't apply to many wild species.
Mushrooms require a nutrient-rich substrate, and livestock manure is this and also affordable. But by that logic, consider all the other farmed crops that are grown using manure. It breaks down quickly, enriching the soil, and is safe.
The idea that you can easily identify a toxic mushroom by only its coloring is wrong. Mushrooms that are safe to eat and those that are toxic can look remarkably similar.
If you are interested in foraging for wild mushrooms, look for a class that teaches safe foraging methods or go out with an experienced forager — don't make any assumptions, because the results can be uncomfortable at least, and dangerous at worst.
Given how important mushrooms are for many vegetarians and vegans, you may assume they are vegetables, but you'd be wrong. In fact, they aren't even plants. Mushrooms are the fruit that erupts from underground fungi, the third kingdom on the planet along with animals and plants.
If you decide to forage for mushrooms, you may have some competition. Large mammals, such as bears and deer, enjoy mushrooms, as do smaller ones, like squirrels and rabbits.
Insects and slugs eat these nutrient-rich morsels as well. In fact, insects are an important part of the decomposition process of leaves, wood, and other waste material in the wild, and their actions help create a more hospitable environment for wild mushrooms to thrive.
Some commonly held beliefs about the safety of wild mushrooms can be devastating if taken as fact. One common belief is that any mushrooms that grow on wood are safe, but that isn't true. The Funeral Bell is a deadly species that grows on this medium.
One very common misconception is that if a wild animal eats a mushroom, then that variety is safe for humans. This is not true, either. Many wild mushrooms that are safe for animals are not safe for people.
This unfortunate belief is dangerous. Not only does cooking not remove toxins from mushrooms and make them safe to eat, but the fumes from the cooking mushrooms can make the air in the home dangerous to breathe.
Many toxic mushrooms look similar to mushrooms that are safe to eat. If you are not confident in your ability to identify a mushroom, or if you have any doubt at all about its safety, do not eat it.
People often assume that because mushrooms have a high moisture content and subtle taste, they don't offer much in the way of nutrition. Mushrooms actually have a lot to offer nutritionally, and that's great because they're a popular meat alternative for people who follow vegan or vegetarian lifestyles.
Mushrooms are a good source of protein and fiber. They are also rich in antioxidants, as well as copper, magnesium, selenium, and phosphorus.
The portion of the mushroom you see above ground is, in fact, just the fruit of the fungi. The part located below the ground, the mycelium, is a network of threads similar to the roots of a plant. This mycelium can spread for vast distances below the forest floor, which means all the mushrooms that sprout from it are technically part of the same. This network takes in the nutrients needed for the fruit to develop.
Farmers who rely on mushrooms as a source of income often invest in climate-controlled growing areas and pasteurization equipment. This specialized equipment does produce more predictable results, but it is not a requirement for growing mushrooms.
You can purchase inexpensive mushroom-growing kits that include everything you need to get started right from your kitchen table. Some people even start their own mushroom farms from mushrooms purchased at the grocery store.
Like anything, the more skilled you are, the better your chances of success, but mushrooms are remarkably forgiving. The novice grower should consider starting with a mushroom-growing kit, but it is possible to have great success growing mushrooms from scraps of store-bought mushrooms.
The key to successfully cultivating mushrooms is having the proper environment. In many ways, it is easier to create the perfect growing environment for mushrooms than for vegetables. If outdoor conditions aren't right, setting up a mushroom growing area inside is inexpensive. The back of a closet or other unused space can become an easy-to-maintain habitat that will offer you consistent harvests of delicious fruits.