#MushroomHealth Summit Day 1 Recap: Research, Culinary Trends & History

Mushroom Health Summit logo

I’m spending two days at the Mushrooms and Health Summit in Washington, D.C. (the first meeting of it’s kind). Today and tomorrow, I’m schmoozing with the world’s top scientists, researchers, and nutrition experts to learn about the last decade of research supporting mushrooms’ role in delivering a combination of nutrients and health benefits.

The best part is I’ll be taking all the info and summarizing it for you in blog posts, tweets, instagrams, and pins. I want to help take the mushroom from “humble” to “mighty” busting myths, delighting you with fun facts, and of course giving you ideas to include them in your day-to-day meals. (hint: it’s the trend to blend)

Disclosure: I’m working with the Mushroom Council to share information from the summit.

Opening Session: Exploring the Evidence

Johanna Dwyer, DSc., RD, Professor at Tufts University

Dr. Dwyer opened the event and gave us an overview of the meeting. I got all excited when she shared that we have a mushroom “growing room” here at the event. I stopped by during the break to take a peek. I loved how they broke it down to help us understand the basic steps of growing mushrooms. Enjoy it in these short videos below.

Catherine Woteki, PhD, Under Secretary for USDA Research, Education, and Economics

Dr. Woteki spoke about the value of nutrition research in dealing with global issues from climate change to emerging diseases in crops and livestock, and ensuring greater worldwide food security (and nutrition security). She shared USDA’s commitment to open science through collaboration, coordination and shared resources. www.Data.gov a new portal for helping researchers and the public access datasets generated by the Executive Branch of the Federal Government.

Joe Caldwell, Vice President, Monterey Mushrooms, Inc.

Mr. Caldwell referred to mushrooms as “the lovely fungus” so you know where his heart is. He introduced us to the Mushroom Council and provided a bit of a history of the need for nutrition research with mushrooms. Historically, mushrooms were discussed based on what they didn’t have – low in calories, fat, sodium, etc. etc. but that is not nearly as interesting as what they DO have.

  • Vitamin D, the only produce in your supermarket with natural vitamin D source. You can also find mushrooms that have been exposed to UV light to really bump up the vitamin D levels.
  • B12 – Typically vitamin B12 is found in animal meats, but the B12 in mushrooms is bioavailable (we can use it)
  • Antioxidants, which are being studied for their role in cancer prevention, including breast cancer (more details in session 2 recap)

Session 1: Mushrooms, A Unique Kingdom

Lisa Castlebury, PhD, USDA ARS

Dr. Castlebury gave us a wonderful overview of mushrooms, diversity of mushroom species, and explained how they are grown for consumer consumption. “What’s with the white color?” (Have you ever wondered if mushroom have anything good for you?) Dr. Castlebury explained they lack chloroplasts so mushrooms are actually NOT plants. They’re fungi.

Don’t get duped by the color thing. Just because they aren’t green, doesn’t mean they lack nutrients. In addition to what I mentioned above, I also love that mushrooms contain glutamate, which gives them their umami (savory, meat-like flavor) and can help you use less sodium in your cooking.

Suzanne Thornsbury, PhD, Agriculture Economist at USDA Economic Research Service (ERS)

Dr. Thornsbury gave an interesting market analysis of mushrooms, including trade and field data; volume sales and growth; and usage data.

Since 2000, mushroom and truffle growth has been increasing (and at an increasing rate compared to previous decades).  About 21% of the U.S. mushroom farms are in Pennsylvania and there are mushroom farms in nearly every state, including Hawaii. The U.S. import fresh mushrooms, mostly coming from our neighbors to the north – Canada. Organic mushrooms, both white button (most common) and portobello mushrooms, account for 23% of the mushroom market and they command a bit of a higher price.  It makes sense to me as organic crops are harder to grow.

If you’re as curious as me about why there are so many mushroom farms in Pennsylvania. Check out this NPR story I found online.

Greg Drescher, Vice President Strategic Initiatives and Industry Leadership, Culinary Institute of America

I loved Greg’s presentation. He discussed mushrooms’ unique flavor attributes and studies on the link between mushrooms’ taste (umami) and health benefits, such as satiation, sodium and calorie reduction.

Greg introduced a key culinary opportunity for mushrooms with “blendability”. Essentially, the idea is to finely chop mushrooms and use them with meat dishes to reduce the meat. He gave an example of a “mushroom meatball” with a 50/50 mushroom meat blend. Rather than the steak with a few mushrooms on top or the mushroom veggie burger, there is a culinary opportunity to meet in the middle and blend in more finely chopped mushrooms. I can’t wait to try this at home. In the meantime, you can find some blendability “pinspiration” on Mushroom Channel’s Pinterest page.

Session 2: Mushrooms and Health: The Journey Begins

Shu-Ting Chang, PhD, Emeritus Professor of Biology, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Dr. Chang talked about mushrooms as both a health food and nutriceutical. He walked us through several mushroom species uses in folk medicine in everything from stomach ailments to liver and heart problems. He noted that even in western medicine various species have been used to stop bleeding an as anti-inflammatory agents. He estimates the current value of “medicinal mushrooms” around $16 billion! That’s a lot of ‘shrooms!

Manny Noakes, Dip Nut & Diet PhD, Research Program Leader, Nutrition and Health Sciences, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Australia

Dr. Noakes pointed out that while “technically” mushrooms aren’t considered a vegetable, they are commonly referred to as one. (I get it. Can you imagine saying, eat your fruits, veggies, and fungi?) She discussed the nutrients found in mushrooms, including vitamin B12, vitamin D, and fiber content. She reviewed how the biosynthesis of vitamin D levels from ergosterols in mushrooms can be significantly enhanced by exposure to sunlight or ultraviolet light post-harvest (e.g. during drying). She reviewed why this is important. Vitamin D is an important factor for immune function and many people do not get the sun exposure needed to make their own vitamin D.

Livestream Tuesday September 10, 2013

All in all, it was a whirlwind of a day! We got to do some networking and chatting about mushrooms at the reception that followed the event.

If you have some time Tuesday, you can watch the sessions live at the Mushroom Health Summit website.

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