Though mushroom falls in the category of vegetables, it is neither a fruit nor a vegetable. In actuality, this edible item is a fungus.
Mushrooms grow naturally in forests, wastelands, meadow, pastures, parks, orchids –typically under shades and moist conditions. It usually grows and expands rapidly during the night.
It grows throughout the year especially during the rainy spells accompanied by thunders. These are saprophytes, i.e. plants lacking green pigment Chlorophyll, which grow on dead and decaying animal or plant matter.
Having realised surprising human health benefits, people have started to cultivate it as a commercial crop for the last couple of decades. With the result, Button mushroom has become the widely grown species, including in Kashmir –owing to its use in the wazwan.
The mushroom cap is composed of thread-like overlapped strands called gills which contain millions of spores (seeds), which help in its propagation.
Mushrooms come in white, brown, black, purple-brown, yellow and creamy colours and different shapes.
China is the major producer of mushrooms and produces half of the world production. More than thousand species of mushrooms are known, and the most common ones include White Button, Crimino, Portabello, Shiitake, Oyster, Black Trumpets, Chanterelles, Hedgehogs, Lions Mane, Lobster, Maitake, Morels, Trumpet King among others.
There are many other species of mushrooms which if eaten can be fatal like the Common Death Cap and some others that can cause stomach pains, diarrhoea and vomiting. So it requires the meticulous attention from the person’s part collecting mushrooms for consumption.
“There is a myth that it is not an easy job to hunt a morel mushroom (Kan Kech). So if any person, fortunately, succeeds in finding one, he then has to put his cap (toep) in case the finder is a male or headscarf (Kal Daej) in case the female finds it, over it if he/she wants to find more lying nearby. The belief is by so doing; other mushrooms will reveal their appearance to him/her that would otherwise remain hidden from his/her eyesight.”
In countries, notably China, South Korea, North Korea, Japan and in most of the European countries mushrooms are used extensively in cooking.
We in Kashmir prepare and cook mushroom cuisines very often, and only elders in the households like to collect and eat them. It is simply cooked in slices and with spinach. But, nowadays, the mushroom is an integral part of weddings and other feast parties and functions. It is prepared by baking, grilling, roasting and chopped for making sauces and soup or added in salads as raw.
Consuming mushrooms is very beneficial to human health, and it reduces the risk of many diseases. It contains water, carbohydrates, proteins, fat, fibre, vitamins (Vit. B1, B3, B4, B5, B6, B12, C, D, E) energy, manganese, selenium, copper, zinc, phosphorous, iron, and other vital anti-oxidants.
Selenium present in mushrooms helps to detoxify some cancer-causing compounds in the body. It also prevents inflammation and thus reduces tumour growth.
Vitamins help in improving immune system.
Fibre present in it helps in proper digestion of food and ensures smooth movement of bowels.
Potassium and sodium help the body to regulate blood pressure.
Vitamin D and phosphorous is essential for the maintenance of good health of bones and teeth.
Iron, copper and vitamins together help in the formation of RBC’s.
Beta-glucans present in mushrooms are effective in preventing prostate cancer, and Linoleic acid is helpful in reducing the risk of breast cancer.
Zinc helps the body in defending against the invading bacteria and viruses.