Mushrooms have been a part of the human diet for thousands of years, with evidence of fungi as a staple of Stone Age dietary habits dating back as far as 19,000 years ago. While the trusty white mushroom and its many brethren have since graced the tables of royalty and peasants, Presidents and citizens alike, mushrooms remained a tried-and-true source of earthy flavor – and little more – for millennia. With the discovery of their vast nutritional benefits and a few important changes to how we eat, however, mushrooms are currently rising to stake their claim as king of the superfoods.
What makes mushrooms a superfood? Why are mushrooms gaining unprecedented popularity? What does this all mean for mushroom production, mushroom growers, and consumers? To answer these questions, it’s important to take a look at the most important aspects of any food source – nutrition and taste.
Mushrooms – A Nutrient-Dense Superfood
While the term “superfood” began as a marketing term for certain foods found to be relatively nutritionally dense, nutritionists, physicians, dieticians, and chefs alike have since recognized the benefits of including these foods into a healthy diet. Made up of primarily plant-based foods, the current accepted list of superfoods includes antioxidant-rich blueberries, fiber-packed sweet potatoes, and primary Omega-3 sources like salmon and avocados. So, what does mushroom nutrition bring to the equation?
Depending on the variety, mushrooms boast over a dozen vitamins and minerals, including B vitamins like folate, zinc, copper, potassium, and even fiber. In addition, mushrooms and mushroom protein contain antioxidants believed to reduce the effects of cell damage and deterioration, including selenium and glutathione. In fact, researchers have recently posited that mushrooms may be the single richest source of the antioxidant ergothioneine.
Superfood, Super Tasty
While recent discoveries in nutrition are certainly one indicator of the overall rise in mushroom popularity, one need not look too far to find that the past few decades have been littered with other nutritious trends fallen by the wayside because they simply didn’t taste all that great. Mushrooms, however, have remained a part of the human diet for so long – even before their full nutritional benefits were known – because of their great taste and versatility. From raw white buttons on a salad, to meaty grilled portobellos, to exotic shiitake mushrooms, there’s a mushroom for every dish.
Ever since humans realized the benefits of adding that earthy, umami flavor to dishes of all kinds, we’ve been searching for other ways to incorporate mushroom recipes into our diet – especially currently leading health trends. With more plant-forward diets making waves in both home cooking and restaurant menus, mushrooms have found a home as a meat substitute for the same foodies that have made stuffed mushrooms, cauliflower rice and veggie burgers so popular. Mushrooms with a dense texture and substantial feel make an excellent, earthy substitute for grilled and jerked meats.
Mushrooms go from Trend to Powerhouse
As these plant-based and other health-focused diets began to take hold, more foodie trend-watchers began to take notice of the versatile mushroom, in particular, due to the relatively low amount of carbs in mushrooms. Though kale held its own as the superfood en vogue for nearly a decade, consumers were beginning to find the limits of the leafy, green superfood. Mushrooms, on the other hand, existed in a staggering variety. The continuing cultivation of specialty mushrooms began to introduce an ever-widening catalogue of flavor to foodies everywhere.
In 2019, Whole Foods released its annual Top Ten Food Trends, which named ten of the most significant trends marketers noticed that year. Named among them was the rise of plant-based alternatives, including mushroom snacks and jerkies that added a whole new flavor dimension to the more traditional beef jerky and meat snack genre. Since, continuous innovations in the ways people cook and consume mushrooms has led to a relative boom in mushroom products.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the supermarkets themselves. In the past few years alone, mushroom innovations in many popular grocery categories have led to even the smallest of stores stocking products like mushroom powders for smoothies, mushroom-based teas and coffees, and continued innovations in snack foods. Companies like South Mill Champs have produced a number of tasty snack foods – such as Shrooms Crisps, Shrooms Mushroom Jerky, and more; it’s clear that mushrooms in all their iterations have rather quickly moved from food trend to the de facto superfood of the year in 2020.
Mushrooms and Market Growth
As we near the second quarter of 2020, it’s clearer than ever that the mighty mushroom isn’t going anywhere. Coupled with the continued popularity of plant-based diets, the year-round growing season and sheer culinary diversity and versatility of mushrooms has contributed to skyrocketing sales figures in markets and grocery stores across the country. Retailers from small niche food providers to big box stores have noted the uptick, with total sales volumes topping 80 million pounds for the first time ever in August of 2019.
Similarly, mushroom prices have seen a substantial increase in recent years. From a baseline of $4.03/lb in December of 2018, researchers at IRI found prices steadily increased to $4.19 in October 2019. With an average growth of 1% per month without any signs of falling demand, it’s clear that mushrooms are valuable to US consumers.
With the recent exploding markets for fresh mushrooms in new arenas like fresh meal kits, as well as within the commercial, restaurant, and educational food sectors, producers such as South Mill Champs have been working diligently to meet consumer demands. South Mill’s goal of a continuous supply of mushrooms, fully able to seamlessly fulfill increasing demand, has led to its current iteration as a truly nationwide company. With large farms on either side of the continental US and distribution centers spread throughout, South Mill Champs has aptly anticipated consumer needs even as those needs continue to grow.
What’s Next for Mushrooms?
Just as many varieties of mushrooms are equally valued for their unique flavor as well as for their ability to soak up complementary flavors, the mushroom business remains unique and continuously adapting. Here at South Mill Champs, we’re constantly looking for new ways to introduce foodies to the different varieties and health benefits of mushrooms. In fact, our primary goal is to provide you with new, convenient ways to enjoy these super fungi – so, munch away! We’ll grow more.