”˜Shroom Boom!

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By Heidi Lewis

People are rarely ambivalent about mushrooms. Whether  a treasured morsel or not, many of us find it hard to  distinguish between varieties we adore. Enter “The  Kingdom”—The Fifth Kingdom of Biology, that is. The Kingdoms are: Animal,  Plant, Protista, Monera—and Fungi. When entering this kingdom, it helps to  know your Latin for proper identification. “Ee-they ushrooms-may in-ay ee-they est-way oast-cay AkeHome-tay ases-cay is-they eek-way are-ay aitake-May.” (Translation:  The mushrooms in the west coast TakeHome cases this week are Maitake.)

Maitake are native to East Asia, where they grow on hardwood trees—they  also grow wild in North America (mostly in the northeast), and wherever  intrepid mushroom hunters find them, they are a rare boon. Back in Shogun era Japan, Maitake mushrooms were worth their weight in silver. In the U.S.,  the Maitake is known as “Hen of the Woods,” yet its Japanese name, which  means, “dancing mushroom,” is a good description of its flouncy skirts. It may  have also gotten the name because people would dance when finding them.

Growing fungi for food is a controlled scientific enterprise. The growers at  Hokto Kinoko, in San Marcos, CA, have a state-of-art facility and employ  environmental practices, as they are committed to all aspects of “research,  development, and production of mushrooms as a superior health food.”

Mushrooms like Maitake have long been our companions as food and  medicine. Maitake are known for their robust earthy characteristics and  may seem hardly medicinal; but recently the Maitake has undergone  scientific scrutiny to understand its great positive heath benefits. It contains  polysaccharides (beta-glucans) that stimulate the immune system and are  being evaluated for fighting cancer.

The Fungi Kingdom still has many mysteries for us to discover, and many  everyday mushrooms, as well as special delicacies such as the Maitake, are  a doorway into the intriguing mycelium world. It’s lucky for human kind that  they’re so tasty too. To learn more about mycelium, check out Mycelium  Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World, by Paul Stamets.

Preparation: Maitake separate easily and are clean and ready to cook. Cook  minimally (1–3 minutes) with anything you’d use button mushrooms for.

Storage: Keep in an airtight container in the fridge. Use sooner for better  flavor. They’ll last up to 5 days and may also be frozen.


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