Move over button mushrooms - we're celebrating the abundance of exotic mushrooms sprouting up around the country.
There has always been a suspicious attitude towards foreign fungi and for years we've been content to only use our familiar favourite: the button mushroom. But when it comes to taste, the button loses out badly.
FIRST THERE WAS ONE
Mushrooms that we know and trust:
- White button mushrooms - you know them with their short white stem and white cap.
- Another South African favourite has been brown mushrooms - with its wide cap and black gills.
- Mushrooms with more exotic names like portobello and portobellini became available on supermarket shelves a few years ago —we could cook authentic Italian meals at last!
In fact, these are all the same variety. Within eight hours after the mushroom is harvested as a button mushroom there is considerable change in colour, texture and taste
So it's the time of harvesting, and not the genetic variety, that is the difference between a button, portobellini, portobello and brown mushroom.
A WHOLE NEW WORLD
Eastern cuisine has used mushrooms as an integral part of their food for centuries.
In addition to the value of mushrooms’ texture, exotics such as shitake, Enoki and Shimeji impart a very particular flavour to broths and food as well as being acknowledged for their health properties.
Ten years ago the South African Gourmet Mushroom Academy, where Dr. Adriaan Smit, a mycologist, works as a consultant and researcher, opened with a view to expanding the industry to help grow mushroom production in South Africa.
Six years ago, Nouvelle mushrooms started up and is now the main supplier of exotic mushrooms to Woolworths and top restaurants in the country.
China produces up to 70% of the world’s exotic mushrooms but growing them here is really important because it cuts down considerably on the carbon footprint of this exotic but also extremely healthy and diverse food.
WHAT'S ON OFFER NOW
Shiitake mushrooms – have a thick, tan/brown coloured cap with white 'stitching' around the side.They have a strong aroma with a distinctive garlic-like taste.
King Oyster mushrooms – with a thick, meaty white stem they have a small tan-coloured cap. Raw, they have little flavour but develop typical mushroom umami flavours during cooking.
Oyster mushrooms (right)– get their name because of their shape and grayish-blue colour.
When cooked fresh, they are best prepared sautéd with garlic and butter, but are versatile imparting their flavour to sauces soups and stews.
Enoki mushrooms (main pic) – have long, thin stems with little white round caps. These delicate beauties can be eaten raw in salads or used as the Japanese do, in soups and broths.
Shimeji mushrooms (top) – small with white stems and little brown caps, they grow clumped together. Fresh and aromatic, they may be used as an antipasto; they also make an excellent sauce for pasta.
Porcini mushrooms – These wild mushrooms, with white stems and yellow-brown caps, have a delicate flavour. They're versatile and can be grilled, fried and are delicious in risotto.
The Exotic Mix – is is a combination of Shiitake, King Oyster, White Shimeji and Brown Shimeji mushrooms and available at Woolworths.
RECIPES USING EXOTIC MUSHROOMS