Fungi can act as a source of food on their own, but also their fermentation and metabolic processes have been exploited for thousands of years to produce some of the staples of our diet.
Fungi have played a vital role in the development of human civilizations; they have been ancestrally used as food, flavoring, and medicine all around the globe. The oldest evidence of mushroom consumption by humans dates to the Stone Age. In addition, edible fungi were also used - and are still used - in sacred ceremonies by several indigenous cultures. Nowadays, both wild harvested and cultivated edible fungi are highly commercialized, offering an immense diversity of them. You can find them everywhere and in a variety of presentations, fresh, processed, dried, powdered or preserved.
Mushrooms are included in all kinds of dishes: soups, sauces, grilled vegetables, even fancy cocktails. Edible fungi are super healthy options to add in our meals and also great vegan allies. They are rich in high-quality proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, fiber, and antioxidants while being low in fat and cholesterol. In recent years, the consumption of edible fungi has greatly increased as people became more aware of the importance of a healthy and balanced diet. Among the most commonly used ones in the kitchen, we can find shiitake, oyster mushrooms, portobellos, and enoki mushrooms. Moreover, some fungi have turned into delicacies of gourmet cuisine, such as truffles, which are one of the most expensive food items you can buy.
But it is not all about big and fleshy mushrooms. Bread, beer, chocolate and wine, we love them all, but what do they have in common? Yeasts! They are single cell fungi with an enormous impact on food and beverage production used for eons. The studies of Louis Pasteur in the mid-1800, brought the role of yeasts into the limelight. Through the process of fermentation, yeasts generate carbon dioxide and alcohol. This metabolic activity is the key of dough leavening and multiple cereal, grains, and fruits brewing. Saccharomyces cerevisiae is the most popular representative of yeasts involved in food fermentation. However, there are many other less known yeasts related to food production that may work in conjunction with bacteria and other fungi. In some cases, they can also be sources of flavors, colors and vitamins. Another fungal species that add unique flavoring to food is Penicillium roqueforti, which contributes to the unique taste of the world-renowned Roquefort blue cheese.
Without a doubt, the “food of gods” and “elixirs of life” that fungi are frequently called, are and will continue to be present in our tables in one way or the other. If you still have doubts about them, it is definitely time to take a step and put some yummy umami in your life!