Science Behind Mushrooms

What are Mushrooms?

Mushrooms are the most recognizable classification of fungus. These bulbous, fleshy things are the sprouting fruit of a vast underground network. They can intertwine with other species' root systems, allowing for inter-species communication between various flora in their surroundings. They can even give some trees the ability to produce extra antibodies or toxins against viruses and pests. 

Interestingly enough, while most of us could see something and say "that's a mushroom," there's no agreed upon scientific basis for what exactly a mushroom is. Individual species can vary so much from one-another that over 14,000 different organisms are called "mushrooms".

Mushrooms are typically found above soil or covering the surface of whatever food source they've colonized. Unlike plants, mushrooms produce spores— microscopic, seed-like particles that are essentially clones of the mother plant. They can also reproduce sexually by sending out long fibers. Once these fibers discover the fiber of another mushroom, they exchange DNA, produce a mushroom of their own, and send out spores to start the cycle again.

Edible Mushrooms

Fungi are thought to have diverged from other lifeforms up to 1.5 billion years ago, meaning that they are as distantly related to bacteria as they are to us. The oldest preserved example of a mushroom is from approximately 400 million years ago. Due to the non-consensus of what exactly mushrooms are, however, nobody is quite sure if the fossil is actually of a Mushroom or of a stem fungus. Many scientists argue that the first mushrooms probably existed between 90 and 94 million years ago due to the humid environments of that era and evidence of spores in amber.

Separating edible from poisonous species requires meticulous attention to detail and even microscopic details are important for identification. The saying goes, there are old mushroom hunters and there are bold mushroom hunters but none that are old and bold.

Mushrooms are a vegan food are often substituted for meat in recipes because of their texture and taste. They also contain a significant amount of protein which is highly sought after in a vegan diet. The majority of mushrooms sold in supermarkets have been commercially grown in controlled mono-culture mushroom farms. Among the most popular are Swiss Brown, Portobello, and Shiitake, which have been carefully bred to ensure no toxic compounds still exist. Mushrooms have commonly been used in Asian and European cuisines for thousands of years despite being neither meat nor fruit nor vegetable.