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Fancy a Fungus?

IN ANCIENT Egypt the Pharaohs prized mushrooms as delicacies. They became the preserve of the royal family. 

The Romans called mushrooms food of the gods and served them only on special occasions. 

The ancient Greeks held mushroom feasts and believed that mushrooms empowered their warriors for battle.

Today, however, mushrooms are not just for the elite. People all over the world enjoy eating them! 

What about you? If you fancy mushrooms, do you know what you are eating? Are mushrooms animals, vegetables, or something else? How are they grown? Are they nutritious? And if you see mushrooms in the wild, what should you do?

Noel, a burly Australian, is a microbiologist and mushroom expert. He studied mushroom cultivation in several countries before returning to Australia to grow them commercially.

“Mushrooms are fungi, a family of organisms that includes mildews and molds,” he explains.

“Biologists formerly thought that fungi were plants, but we now know that they are very different from plants.

“For example, fungi do not make their food through photosynthesis as do nearly all plants. They can grow in the dark.

Their bodies secrete powerful enzymes that convert organic material into basic nutrients, which they absorb as food.

This unique digestive process also distinguishes fungi from animals. Since fungi are neither plants nor animals, biologists now classify them in a realm of their own—the fungi kingdom.”

“In the wild, mature mushrooms release millions of tiny spores that mix with other mushroom spores and germinate,” Noel continues. “If the . . . spores land in a cold, damp place with plenty of food, they can grow into new mushrooms. 

Commercial mushroom growers aim to replicate this process using controlled conditions to improve crop yields and quality.”

It can be very dangerous to gather mushrooms in the wild, however.

The death cap mushroom (Amanita phalloides), among others, closely resembles edible varieties yet is deadly. So follow the rule: Never eat mushrooms from the wild unless a mushroom expert identifies them as safe to eat!

Of course, commercially grown varieties are safe to consume. They are, in fact, delicious treats that were once reserved for royalty!

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