Versatile and healthy ingredient
Mushrooms are part of many of our favourite dishes. Whether they’re served as an appetizing stuffed mushroom cap or sliced into sauces, mushrooms are versatile ingredients. They are often used as an alternative to meat and are capable of being BBQed and served identical to hamburgers. Low in fat and carbohydrates, mushrooms offer a healthy way to boost meal nutrition. They are also rich in B vitamins such as niacin, riboflavin, and vitamin D. Research on the health benefits of mushrooms finds that they can offer value in terms of cancer, viruses, cholesterol and immune systems. Until a chance meeting with the CEO of Mushrooms Canada this past summer, the mushroom sector of agriculture and research was not one I had thought about much. In delving into the story, it’s an interesting one.
Mushroom production in Canada and globally
Mushrooms are produced commercially in six of Canada’s ten provinces. In 2020 Canada produced over 132,000 metric tonnes of mushrooms. Which, Ontario and British Columbia accounted for over 90% of Canada’s total production. In 2021, 264 farms reported growing mushrooms in the Canadian Census. Of those, 41 are growing agaricus mushrooms (which includes the button mushroom) on 88% of the mushroom production area, while the remaining 223 farms grow specialty mushrooms over 12% of the production area.
Mushroom production is based on total area, rather than land, as they are grown indoors all year round. They are produced in climate-controlled buildings, in trays, and harvested roughly every two weeks. Operations with large enough production areas are capable of production rotations that harvest every day of the week, all year round. From harvest, they are quickly packaged and sold fresh through local grocery stores and as exports. Those not sold fresh, enter mushroom processing plants and are sold as canned whole, sliced, or pickled.
A 2017 assessment of global mushroom production indicates that since 1978, the cultivation of edible mushrooms has increased 30-fold. While there are over 12,000 fungi species that are mushrooms, with about 2,000 having some degree of edibility, human consumption normally involves about 35 different mushroom species. A further 200 species play a role in traditional medicinal uses.
Wild harvesting requires knowledge
Mushrooms commonly grow in the wild and are a popular food for people to harvest. Mushroom festivals are offered in numerous locations, with many offering educational training for novice pickers. In recent years, mushroom picking, hunting, or foraging as it is known, has grown in popularity, this is likely as wild mushrooms while delicious, also come at a higher price tag in the grocery store.
It’s of great importance to know what variety of mushrooms are safe for humans to consume and which variety a person is picking. A recent German study of the toxic effects of mushroom consumption over the period 2000–2018, identified over 4,400 hospitalizations and 22 deaths. Numerous online resources are available to contribute to identifying and informing people about which wild varieties are safe for human consumption.
Mushroom production and farming reflect the great diversity of Canadian agriculture. Having increased my awareness of the Canadian mushroom sector, I’ll be making a more conscious effort while grocery shopping to support this aspect of Canadian agriculture. While mushrooms may not play a central feature in your weekly meal planning, Mushrooms Canada’s website offers an extensive listing of recipes for all occasions. Having delved into many of the recipes, I will be adding mushrooms to my grocery lists on a more frequent basis.