I truly believe that every day provides an opportunity for a new learning experience, sometimes when you least expect it. I experienced one of those last week as a guest of the Australian Mushroom Growers Association when I attended a professional development afternoon on the power of mushrooms. Mushrooms have long been touted as the ‘vegetarians meat’ but they are so much more than that. Mushrooms have formed their own faction and are neither fruit nor vegetable and they evolved at a different time to plants. Their savoury flavour is called ‘umami’, a Japanese term meaning flavoursome and most of this flavour comes from natural glutamates in the mushroom, meaning that you don’t need to add salt or flavour enhancers. Cultivated mushrooms are generally not grown outdoors, hence the analogy of feeling like a mushroom when one is being ‘kept in the dark’ about certain aspects of life. I quite often heard my brother complain of this when we were growing up but I think that may have been more to do with his listening ability. But I digress. Mushrooms have the unique ability to produce Vitamin D through the action of sunlight and researchers have found that wild mushrooms commonly contain significant amounts of Vitamin D. Having said that, one shouldn’t go and pick wild mushrooms randomly as they may be the poisonous, life threatening variety. Vitamin D deficiency is thought to be the most common nutritional and medical condition in the world today affecting more than 50% of the global population. This issue has sparked much interest in Australia as we have such abundant sunshine and Vitamin D is synthesised under the skin in the presence of sunlight. However, although our Slip, Slop, Slap campaign has fortunately made us very aware of the dangers of too much exposure to the sun it has limited our ability to produce adequate Vitamin D. It is very difficult to get enough Vitamin D through diet alone and most dietary Vitamin D comes from table margarine, canned fish and eggs.
As farmers generally don’t subject their mushrooms to light other than briefly during growing and harvesting operations, cultivated mushrooms are low in Vitamin D. Enter a new player in the game. Vitamin D mushrooms. Intrigued by the Vitamin D content of wild mushrooms, researchers at the University of Sydney investigated further and ongoing studies have discovered that 1-2 seconds of a pulsed light source can stimulate mushrooms to naturally produce enough Vitamin D for the daily needs of adults. STOP PRESS. Here it is; if you include just 100g (3 button) of Vitamin D mushrooms per day, you will be supplied with 100% of the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) of Vitamin D. As an added bonus, tests show that the levels of Vitamin D during shelf life and any cooking process are virtually unchanged. These special mushrooms are regularly tested at a NATA (National Association of Testing Authorities) recognised facility to ensure that a minimal level of Vitamin D is attained. I have scientifically taste tested them myself courtesy of Don Hancey at PAN-O-RAMA Catering and Adelaide Mushrooms and I am happy to report that they taste just like regular every day mushrooms. I did eat a whole packet just to be certain. Mushrooms do also provide 20% of the daily needs for B vitamins, are packed with essential nutrients, full of powerful antioxidants, low in kilojoules, virtually fat free and have a very low GI. Vitamin D mushrooms are already available in the US and Canada but will be arriving in Australia next moth in July. Go grab a brown bag and get some.