Written by Maame Ekua Manful, West Africa TFF Regional Coordinator, PhD Student at Technological University Dublin and Founder at Sweetpot Yoghurt (2018 TFF Finalist)

As a food scientist and nutrition geek, I am intrigued to know what role mushrooms will take in our future diets and the global food system. What is their nutritional value, and how can we incorporate them more frequently into our diets through process transformations for shelf-stability and new product inventions?

🚀 Mushroom cultivation promises to be a game-changer

While 14,000 species of mushrooms are documented, some popular edible varieties are the oyster, chanterelle, maitake and shiitake. Compared to other foods, like fruits and vegetables, mushrooms are easy to cultivate. They require little technology, minimal space and resources, no fertilizers, yet they deliver great returns on nutrition. With a shorter growth cycle, they are ready to be harvested in 45-150 days depending on prevailing biotic and abiotic factors. Fascinatingly, mushrooms are nutrient recyclers in the ecosystem as they feed on home or organic farm waste which would otherwise be discarded posing environmental concerns. As such, it supports the bioeconomy concept, constantly recycling nutrients into the food chain. 

💥 A nutrition bomb

Several B-vitamins are present in mushrooms such as thiamin, riboflavin and niacin while minerals such as potassium, magnesium and phosphorus are available in rich amounts.  Mushrooms are known for nutraceutical benefits due to the presence of antioxidants, dietary fibres (e.g beta-glucans), and fat-soluble vitamins conferring immune-modulating properties. They are recognised as the only plant-based source of vitamin D and the presence of unsaturated fatty acids in mushrooms makes it a source of healthy fats. 

Fresh mushrooms’ nutritional value makes them qualify legally for a “low calorie” and “low fat” nutrition claim. 100g fresh mushroom provides 2-3 grams of protein, 4-5 grams of carbohydrates and less than 1% fat. When dried, nutrients concentrate, with total  carbohydrate content ranging from  50-65%,  19-35% proteins and 2-6% fat

⏳ Ways to extend shelf-life and preserve nutrients

The high water content of mushrooms lessons its keeping quality. Thus, refrigeration or transforming them into shelf-stable form is essential in preventing food waste and saving our environment. Here are two ways to do this.

Four Sigmatic Mushroom Blend / © Four Sigmatic

Mushroom powder: Technologies that have successfully been used to preserve precious and heat-sensitive nutrients are freeze-drying and spray-drying, usually with carriers that enhance the process and the output. In a more traditional way, dehydration is done through sun, solar or hot air oven drying methods. These powders can be used as functional food ingredients, added to fruit powder mixes, smoothies, yoghurts, energy bars, chocolates,  pastries – the list is endless!

Pickles and canned mushrooms: These are other techniques for enhancing mushroom shelf life, while delivering on convenience and savoury taste demands of foodies.  Meat analogues have been successfully developed from mushrooms serving the growing need for plant-based meats. The pain of plastics endangering planetary health has seen biodegradable packaging developed from mushrooms.  Other non-food uses from mushrooms are found in arts and fashion with sneakers developed from mushroom mycelia meeting the needs of vegans.

♻️ A humble and renewable food resource

The future holds exciting prospects for fungal innovations and I expect to see mushrooms being specifically bred for high contents for proteins, dietary fibres, reduced antinutrients, vitamins and minerals, to meet targeted nutritional requirements for sportsmen, patients suffering from constipation, micronutrient deficient patients and the immune-boosting needs of consumers. Mushrooms specially bred for low water content would imply longer shelf life reducing food waste as well as conserving energy needed to dehydrate into powders. 

As humble and renewable a resource as mushroom is, its potential is yet to be exploited as a sustainable food ingredient and feedstock for non-food industrial applications. Food entrepreneurs and major stakeholders could take advantage of mushrooms to deliver nutritious, affordable foods in sustainably feeding the world.

Fungi Networking Immersion

Connect with fungi enthusiasts at our closing live event of the "World of Fungi" Topical Week on Friday, January 29th at 5PM CET.