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IT’S NOT A PLANT OR ANIMAL, BUT THIS FOOD IS CHANGING OUR WORLD

Cultivated since 600AD, covering the earth’s landscape, and eaten almost every week, this food is changing our world and yet most of us don’t know much about it  (1). 

 

This week, we want to celebrate all the ways that mushrooms naturally benefit people and the planet. 

 

What are mushrooms?

 

While we often imagine mushrooms as the umbrella-shaped fungi that grows from organic matter, this is in fact just the fruiting body, while the majority of the mushroom grows underground, known as mycelium (2). Mushrooms are considered distinct from plants and animals due to their composition and how they digest food (3).

 

Mushrooms have existed on the planet long before humans entered the scene (4). The fossil record indicates that fungi existed as far back as 438 million years ago (5). Due to this long history, it is estimated that there are hundreds of thousands of different types of mushrooms (6). 

 

What are mushrooms good for?

 

Although the mushrooms most commonly sold by grocery stores don’t have the most attractive appearance and vibrant colours of other superfoods, mushrooms are incredibly beneficial to human health, sustainable food systems, and the natural environment.

 

1- For human health

 

Many studies show that mushrooms are high in nutrients and also support the immune system. Specifically, mushrooms are “rich in the most important protein building blocks, the essential amino acids,” are high in vitamin B and D, and contain a significant amount of iron and potassium (7). For the immune system, mushrooms “have shown to be effective against cancer, cholesterol reduction, stress, insomnia, asthma, allergies and diabetes” (8). Studies have shown that this effectiveness is due to mushrooms directly supporting the immune system or by supporting medical treatments that patients are taking simultaneously. 

 

2- For sustainable food systems

 

Mushrooms are not only grown sustainably, but they also can be used to grow other foods more sustainably. 

 

Growing mushrooms is considered sustainable because they can be grown using agricultural waste, such as crushed corn cobs, and as they grow, they naturally recycle this agricultural waste into soil (9). In addition, “Modern mushroom production is energy efficient, relying on heat generated by composting to help warm production facilities” (10). In short, mushrooms demand very few resources to grow since they re-purpose waste.

 

In terms of how mushrooms support the sustainability of other food production, research has found that mushrooms naturally contain anti-fungal and other agent-fighting properties that have been proven effective when used on agricultural fields to eliminate pests (11). This can benefit our food system as mushrooms can replace synthetic pesticides which have been found harmful to people and the planet.

 

3- For our environment

 

The value that mushrooms contribute to the environment is endless and deeply intertwined with their relationship to other species, so we will just focus on just one and let you discover the rest (12)!

 

Did you know that trees communicate to one another through mushrooms?!! This is no fantasy, folks. Mushrooms connect forests together and allow trees, even of different species, to pass nutrients back and forth to each other and send warning signals if threats are near (13). 

 

Mushrooms truly are incredible and we hope the next time you are enjoying them with friends or family, you can share these fun facts!

 

 

Sources:

  1. 1) Miles, Philip G., and Shu-Ting Chang. Mushrooms: cultivation, nutritional value, medicinal effect, and environmental impact. CRC press, 2004.
  2. 2) Wani, Bilal Ahmad, R. H. Bodha, and A. H. Wani. “Nutritional and medicinal importance of mushrooms.” Journal of Medicinal Plants Research 4.24 (2010): 2598-2604.
  3. 3) Jo Feeney, Mary et al. “Mushrooms-Biologically Distinct and Nutritionally Unique: Exploring a “Third Food Kingdom”.” Nutrition today vol. 49,6 (2014): 301-307. doi:10.1097/NT.0000000000000063
  4. 4) Wani, Bilal Ahmad, R. H. Bodha, and A. H. Wani. “Nutritional and medicinal importance of mushrooms.” Journal of Medicinal Plants Research 4.24 (2010): 2598-2604.
  5. 5) Miles, Philip G., and Shu-Ting Chang. Mushrooms: cultivation, nutritional value, medicinal effect, and environmental impact. CRC press, 2004.
  6. 6) Ibid.
  7. 7) Kurtzman Jr., R. H., y “Mushrooms: sources for modern western medicine.” Micología Aplicada International, vol. 17, no. 2, 2005, pp.21-33. Redalyc, https://www.redalyc.org/articulo.oa?id=68517202
  8. 8) Wani, Bilal Ahmad, R. H. Bodha, and A. H. Wani. “Nutritional and medicinal importance of mushrooms.” Journal of Medicinal Plants Research 4.24 (2010): 2598-2604.
  9. 9) Jo Feeney, Mary et al. “Mushrooms-Biologically Distinct and Nutritionally Unique: Exploring a “Third Food Kingdom”.” Nutrition today vol. 49,6 (2014): 301-307. doi:10.1097/NT.0000000000000063.
  10. 10) Ibid.
  11. 11) Wani, Bilal Ahmad, R. H. Bodha, and A. H. Wani. “Nutritional and medicinal importance of mushrooms.” Journal of Medicinal Plants Research 4.24 (2010): 2598-2604.
  12. 12) Miles, Philip G., and Shu-Ting Chang. Mushrooms: cultivation, nutritional value, medicinal effect, and environmental impact. CRC press, 2004.
  13. 13) Stamets, Paul. Mycelium running: how mushrooms can help save the world. Random House Digital, Inc., 2005.

Michelle Austin

Michelle is SPUD's Sustainability Lead. She believes a sustainable food system is the key to creating a environmentally-friendly and just world. You can often find her in the mountains biking, hiking or skiing!

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