Are mushrooms vegan?
For vegans, any mushroom variety that in nature grows on trees is perfectly vegan. These include varieties like Oyster and Shiitake mushrooms, as well as Enoki and Lions Mane. However, commercially grown field mushrooms like Portobello and Buttons use composted chicken manure as a growing medium. This is sourced from intensive chicken farms, so if you care about the welfare of chickens you may want to give these mushrooms a wide berth. (Note: foraged ones are okay).
Here’s a quick list of why our fungi friends are important in a vegan diet.
1. It’s a 100% ethical & natural whole food
Eat guilt-free! Nothing, not even the planet is harmed in the making of Oyster & Shiitake mushrooms. For your body, it is a 100% natural wonder food and a much more healthy option to lab-grown meat or highly processed foods.
Mushrooms contain many of the ‘essential’ amino acids usually found in meats. This is why fungi are at the forefront of research into emerging/alternative proteins. Did you know that Quorn is made from fungi found in soil? Founded in the 1980’s Quorn was one of the first to make use of fungi fermentation to further enhance the protein profile.
Fungi contain healthy doses of the Vitamin B group. Foods fortified with vitamin B often use yeast to do this. For vegans, mushrooms are one of the only sources of dietary vitamin D. If fungi form part of a well-managed vegan diet you should be able to cut back on many supplements.
Depending on the variety, mushrooms also have several minerals that are difficult to obtain from a vegan diet — such as selenium, potassium, copper, iron, and phosphorus.
In a word umami. Mushrooms add solid flavours to every meal and complexity that can tie the meal together. In fact, fungi give many plant-based foods that umami flavour. A good example is the use of fermented fungi to make Soy Sause. The fermentation uses koji, a mould, to work its magic. The result is pretty powerful. Also, many vegan fish sauces also use koji fermentation to achieve the taste. Yeast (high in glutamates) is also used to add that umami boom.
Many mushroom varieties, especially the Oyster mushroom give a pleasant “meaty” mouth feel to any dish. Regardless of opinions on the ‘need’ to have a meaty texture, the important act of chewing is difficult to acquire and often missing from plant-based meals. This chewing is a necessary factor in pushing flavours across the palate and for proper digestion. Chewing is the mechanism that makes many nutrients more bioavailable to our bodies.
The Pink oyster mushroom is a perfect example. If it is vigorously fried it will attain a crisp and slightly chewy texture that is difficult to obtain from plants. If it is simmered say in a stew or curry, it will take on a very chewy texture that rivals even the best synthetic meats.
At a commercial scale mushrooms are one of the few foods that can be intensively grown with minimal impact on the environment. They require little energy (so low carbon), minimal space to grow, and minimal chemicals or water used. In fact, many varieties of mushrooms use agricultural waste products or recycled materials as the growing medium.
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