They’re not a fruit, they’re not a vegetable — they’re actually edible fungi, which doesn’t sound very enticing — but mushrooms are a much-loved staple of many diets.

Unlike most fruit and vegetables, in general mushrooms don’t go in and out of season. Instead, they’re available year-round and can be used in lots of seasonal dishes, in many different cuisines.

Ninety-three per cent of all mushrooms sold in Australia are locally grown, with a huge $20 million invested in the past decade.

“You just can’t get much better than a well-cooked mushroom, ” Samuel McKinven, head chef at No Mafia Italian Restaurant, said.

“Availability is great at the moment too — there’s been so much advancement in growing the ingredient.”

Everyone has their favourite way to use mushrooms, whether by roasting, sauteing, or including them freshly sliced in a pasta, risotto or stir-fry.

“I think the best way to cook a mushroom is to saute at high heat with butter — the old-school confit mushroom is also great, ” Mr McKinven said.

Noelene Swain, WA State promotions co-ordinator at Australian Mushroom Growers, suggested diversifying mushrooms to eat them with each meal — in an omelette for breakfast with cheese and spinach, loaded into the salad of the day for lunch or blending them with meat being used at dinner time.

“This will typically include burgers, rissoles, tacos or bolognaise with 50 per cent mushroom and 50 per cent minced meat, ” she said.

It’s this dense, meaty texture that makes mushrooms a great substitute for vegetarians.

“Vegetarians can get a lot from mushrooms, pulses and legumes that they can’t get from meat. It’s what makes mushrooms a vegetarian favourite, ” Anthony Crapper, head chef at Coco’s Restaurant, said.

For something different, dried mushrooms can be used to infuse flavours through sauces and soups.

“If we’re infusing flavours in the kitchen, dried mushrooms are usually the best option because they hold their aroma and flavour well and can release a lot into the dish, ” Mr Crapper said.

“Dried porcini mushrooms are great for aromas and have a really strong flavour.”

Although there are common, easily recognisable mushrooms, more unusual varieties can be the best option for some dishes.

Try enoki, oyster or shiitake mushrooms to complement your Asian cooking, or mix a few different types together for a full-flavoured mushroom medley.

“A favourite for me is the king oyster, ” Mr Crapper said.

“They’re big and full of flavour, plus you can roast them off and they’ll still keep their texture.”

For an ingredient so well loved, the health benefits of mushrooms often go unnoticed.

Besides holding powerful antioxidants, mushrooms are the only non-animal source of vitamin B12 — plus they’re low GI, so they’ll fill you up for longer.

Mushrooms are a low-maintenance addition to the refrigerator.

“If you keep them in a paper bag in the crisper of your fridge, they’ll easily last a week or more if bought fresh, ” Ms Swain said.

There’s no need to wash or peel mushrooms — brushing off the specks and wiping with a damp paper towel will do the trick. 


© The West Australian

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