Monday, February 22, 2010

On mushrooms

Our daily intake of vitamin D (RDA 2.5 μg) is usually acquired through foodstuffs such as fish liver oil, egg yolk, liver and butter, or by cutaneous biosynthesis during sunlight exposure. Often these sources are not accessible. Dietary requirements may eliminate the aforementioned foods and the winter sun is often an infrequent visitor to some parts of the world.

Cep, Boletus edulis

Mushrooms provide an answer. They are excellent sources of vitamin D, with some containing up to 2 μg of the vitamin per gram of dry matter. They also contain phytosterols which have been shown to reduce cholesterol absorption, thus reducing overall blood cholesterol. Unfortunately most supermarkets and small stores in Ireland tend to stock only 1-2 cultivated types (generally button and portobella), and while specialist stores may stock a wide range, these may not always be close at hand. The answer lies in collecting of wild mushrooms. 

Common puffball, Lycoperdon perlatum

The overall consumption of wild mushrooms in Ireland is low, as it is in most European countries. In a 2007 study of wild edible Irish fungi in woodlands, Tom Harrington and Maria Cullen of the University of Limerick (on behalf of Coford), noted a change in this pattern. Previously mycophobic countries, such as Spain, now collect and consume many wild species of mushrooms. Indeed, Spain has set up nurseries of black truffle with oak which brings in over €4 million per annum. 

Ireland has 40 edible wild mushroom species. In the Coford study, 29 edible species were found between September and November in 53 forest sites. Harrington and Cullen established that broadleaf woodlands were more productive than coniferous types and that the most common fungi found were hedgehog fungus, honey fungus, wood blewit and ceps. This shows the variety and frequency of this free foodstuff.

Chanterelle, Cantharellus cibarius

The rise in interest in wild edible mushrooms is certainly a good thing; however it must always be tempered with a warning regarding poisonous species. Knowledge (or better yet, the presence of a knowledgeable person) of the differences between the edible and the toxic on a mushroom hunt is essential.

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