by Josh Chalmers
Since I have stopped eating meat, mushrooms have become an important part of my diet and I am shocked by how many people dislike them! A common reason is the texture, perhaps a shady memory of the wet, rubbery things we were severed at school… I must inform all you mushroom haters reading this, there is another way.
Flavour is and has always been crucial when I cook, all the time and effort of preparing a good meal is worth it if it tastes good. Mushrooms have this amazing ability to carry flavor; I urge you, next time you cook them (which I sincerely hope is soon) you add your seasoning and take in the aromas as they change. My go-to is the chestnut mushroom, chop into relatively thin slices then throw into a hot frying pan once your knob of butter has melted. As they start to really sizzle, add salt, pepper, and cumin; finally, you flip them after about 4 minutes, allow to brown on the other side and squeeze a third of a lemon. You will watch this fungus that haunted your childhood transform into these golden mouthfuls of explosive flavor.
And that’s not all.
As my pallet for mushrooms grew I decided to do a bit of research and some of that might surprise you. The honey fungus measuring 2.4 miles across the Blue Mountains in Oregon is believed to the largest living organism on earth. The part of the mushroom that is visible, above ground is not what we’re talking about here, in fact, the threads that lie below it (mycelium) are where their mass is. So these threads all join together underground and connect the roots of plants and allow them to communicate with one another, kind of like the internet. If this is news to you and you’re not too bored of mushrooms yet, plants use these fungus threads to share information about nutrients and can even display xenophobia by spreading toxic chemicals to unwelcome local plants.
19th-century German biologist Albert Bernard Frank called this connection between plants and fungus mycorrhiza and said 90% of land plants mutually benefit from the relationship. There has been extensive research composed since then and it all suggests that plants that are supported by this mycorrhiza are less susceptible to disease and even more capable of protecting their young.
I suppose the debate this sparks is where is the line is drawn with when something is defined as a living organism. The fact that plants can communicate using this “wood wide web” suggests that they are thinking independently and thus is there an ethical issue with eating these tasty little things?