Mushrooms are one of the most common ingredients used in numerous dishes. They may not have a flavorful taste on their own but when mixed with other ingredients, they add a unique texture to the dish.
Unlike what some people believe, the mushroom is not a vegetable. It is produced by a fungus that grows on a decaying material. In the 1960s, it was reclassified into the Kingdom of Fungi, a so-called hidden kingdom. Today, however, it is cultivated in a controlled environment, specifically in a windowless building with even temperature and humidity.
As of 2008, the top five mushroom-producing countries in the world based on the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) statistics are China at number one followed by the U.S., the Netherlands, Poland and France.
Mushrooms are now available in different shapes, sizes, colors and flavors. The button or the field variety is what’s commonly sold in the supermarkets. It has a dome shape and smooth texture.
The shiitake variety is from Japan and is distinguished by its brown caps, firm texture and smoky flavor.
The portobello mushroom is large in size and shaped like a pancake with dark brown caps. It is also used as a substitute for beef in fajitas and vegetarian sandwiches.
The chanterelle variety has a yellow-orange color and is shaped like a trumpet. It is usually sold in its dried form and available during springtime.
Other varieties unfamiliar to some of you are the enoki (Japanese mushroom), morel, oyster, straw, porcini and the woo d ears.
The straw and wood ear kinds are commonly used in Asian cuisines. The straw one is distinct for its umbrella shaped cap and is sold in cans. The wood ear kind is also called cloud ears and tree ears and often available in dried form.
Whether you’re buying it in a can or plastic pack, make sure the container is tightly sealed. The mushrooms should be firm and the color is event. If they are slimy or have dark spots, do not use them.
Mushrooms can only stay for days in the refrigerator. The fresh ones can be kept for up to a week but the enoki and oyster varieties should be used up to three days only.
When storing them in the fridge, wrap them in paper towel unwashed and put in a sealed plastic bag.
Finally, before using mushrooms for any dish, simply rinse them briefly and wipe with a damp paper towel. Avoid soaking them as they easily absorb water and will end up mushy.