Mushrooms are definitely one of those foods that people either love or hate!

Being from Pennsylvania, the state that produces the most mushrooms, I thought we’d take the time to shine a spotlight on this unique nutritional powerhouse since it’s Mushroom Month!  My other inspiration was a revelation by one of our dietitian experts.

Mushrooms are an excellent source of B vitamins, selenium, copper, and even potassium.  But what often gets the most attention is the claim to fame of being a vegetarian source of vitamin D.  Did you know that certain commercially grown mushrooms have 25 times the vitamin D content compared to others?

Lauren Manaker

Not only do our customers learn new things about nutrition from our courses, our authors do too!  Lauren Manaker MS, RDN, LD, CLEC who recently tackled the update to our course “Vitamin D: Should “D” Stand for Deficiency?” was reminded that vitamin D deficiency is linked to a significant number of health issues including certain risks of cancer and preeclampsia as she revised the course.

One point about mushrooms really stuck out to Lauren, “I’ve been studying human nutrition since 1998 and I don’t know how I missed the fact that some companies are exposing mushrooms to UV light, resulting in Vitamin D production.”

While all mushrooms have some vitamin D2, the nutrient can be significantly increased in commercial mushrooms by exposing them to ultraviolet light.  Lauren explained, “Quick pulses of ultraviolet light flash over the mushroom’s surface, going through it, and setting off a chemical process that converts a compound similar to cholesterol inside the mushrooms into vitamin D. Does anyone else think that’s cool, or just me?”

As the local food movement has grown in strength so has the activity of foraging.  Last year when ICurt Wewer spotted an enormous, bright orange mushroom on an evening walk I turned to Kurt Wewer, Executive Chef/General Manager Ever Grain Brewing Company in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania. Not only does Kurt enjoy foraging for mushrooms, he has successfully turned them into popular restaurant features.

Kurt, who started foraging with his grandfather in his teens, took 2 decades off from foraging before being inspired by Mycologist William Brown.  Kurt shared, “William was growing mushrooms exclusively for the Garlic Poet Restaurant & Bar, and he started to contact me when he would find wild mushrooms and other wild edibles like paw paws, that he thought I might be interested in buying for the fine dining restaurant.”  As Kurt began buying local foraged treasures, he learned more about where mushrooms were found, the trees they grow under, and the conditions that were required for growth.

After several forays with William and other wild edible foragers, Kurt was hooked. “They trained me how to identify the deadly mushrooms and the mushrooms that will make you sick and that was really the first step towards learning what I could find and eat on my own. After that, a ton of reading, hiking, attempts to identify wild edibles, some successful forays on my own, and I was really invested and somewhat obsessed,” explained Kurt. (Check out his buckets of wild chanterelle mushrooms in our featured photo.)

mushroom cutieSo how can someone get started foraging for this natural source of vitamin D?  Kurt, who loves to forage with his children in tow, warned, “I cannot stress enough (as all foragers do): you do not ever eat a mushroom or wild edible without being 100% sure of it’s identity. There are a lot of white mushrooms out there, and many can kill you. There are lots of little brown mushrooms out there, and several can kill you. It’s not anything to mess around with. With the proper training and education, you can learn what is safe and what is not safe. Only then should you eat anything you pick from the wild.”

Both Lauren and Kurt enjoy adding mushrooms to dishes, Lauren having to do it in the sly manner of a good mom.  Lauren’s secret? “I chop them up and sneak them into ground beef recipes because my entire household is apparently allergic to vegetables unless they are hidden.  I also like to try to use mushrooms for a Meatless Monday meal. Try a Philly cheese steak sandwich with marinated mushrooms instead of beef-its darn good!”

As you can see from this mouthwatering photo from one of Kurt’s creations below (mushroom & avocado toast anyone?), he likes to use mushrooms in many different ways in recipes. “We use powdered and/or dried mushrooms to add an umami-like quality to butters, sauces, and stocks. We also use fresh, wild and cultivated mushrooms on pizzas and tacos to be the main or one of the main flavor profiles.”

mushroom dish

“We’ve used lion’s mane mushrooms to mimic crab or pork. I’ve even used wild foraged chicken of the woods mushrooms to mimic fried chicken in a funnel cake fried chicken dish. Overall, I have a love for the intense flavor and healthy qualities of mushrooms, wild and cultivated, and feel like they can be incorporated into lots of meals in lots of awesome ways! Happy Mushroom Month! I’ll be out in the woods searching for Maitakes (Hen of the Woods)! If you see them on a menu – get them! They’re an incredible mushroom – easily one of the best for flavor and health!”

Lauren added an additional nutritional benefit of mushrooms that consumers may not know about, “Cooked mushrooms are rich in folate, making them a great food choice for pregnant women and women trying to conceive (since folate is needed in higher amounts during this time of life). Mushrooms are also rich in antioxidants, making them a great food choice for dads to be to possibly enhance their fertility. Just make sure they are clean and preferably cooked to be on the safe-side if pregnant).

Thanks Lauren and Kurt for your mushroom filled advice!  Oh, and that big orange mushroom I found?  It turned out to be a highly poisonous version called Jack O ’Lantern that supposedly glows in the dark.  Since I saw it in the cemetery I did not go back to check that fact after dark!

You can check out the current version of our course “Vitamin D: Should “D” Stand for Deficiency?” until Lauren’s update is publishing in 2019.