Tuesday, January 31, 2012: 09:33:00 PM

Food Processing Trend

Indian tables growing mushrooms

Mushroom is a healthy yet mysterious food item that has a history of risk and charm about it

Mushrooms form an integral part of several cuisines and are also a common ingredient for garnishing in Indian foods. Known for their delicate flavours and rich texture, mushrooms enjoy a following among foodies and the health conscious alike. Though a favourite for many, there is an element of risk involved in the consumption of mushrooms as certain wild varieties are known to contain toxins that can be fatal for humans.

 
According to Dr V H Potty, food technologist and chairman of Diversified Food Technologies (India), Mysore, “Mushrooms are cherished for their delicate flavour and texture. They belong to the fungi group and grow wildly as well as are "farmed" under controlled conditions. One of the most difficult problems when wild mushrooms are picked for consumption is the existence of many varieties of poisonous mushrooms, as some of them can be fatal and unless good knowledge about them is available eating wild mushrooms is considered somewhat risky.”
 
In spite of the risk factor, the demand for wild mushrooms is much higher than the farm produced ones. This makes a rather tricky situation for the farmers who want to cultivate mushrooms. Since the business model of growing mushrooms is quite a safe one and there is almost guaranteed high production, there is a lack of demand in the market for such varieties. This may not have anything directly to do with taste but because of the typical public fascination for wild mushrooms that have an element of risk involved in the consumption. The processing of mushrooms is also rather simple and the cost of the machinery is less too.
 
Dr Potty further says, “The Morel mushroom or the Morchella variety is much sought after because of its characteristic taste and fetches much higher price in the market compared to button mushroom. Since they grow wildly, there is no control on its availability in abundance. Interestingly, their production increases dramatically in forests where forest fires are controlled, though the reason is not known. As it contains small amounts of toxic substances belonging to Hydrazine group, Morel mushroom must be treated with respect. While it should never be consumed raw, even cooked version must be consumed in moderation.”
 
On the table
 
The popularity of mushrooms in Indian restaurants is more than in the home kitchens and it is mainly because most home cooks are unaware of cooking techniques of the ingredient. According to Kolkata based homemaker Bidisha Roy, “Though I do not know much about the nutritional aspects of mushrooms, most professional chefs advise that it should be cooked mildly. The most popular use of mushrooms at our home is the one sautéed with butter and salt. It usually accompanies the main course or is a garnishing.”
 
Certain rare varieties of mushrooms such as the truffle are among the most sought after delicacies in the world. The changing tastes of the average Indian consumer is therefore likely to push up the demand for mushrooms as it has a rather continental taste and thereby opens up more opportunities in the food processing sector.
 
Tias Chakraborty

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