About two or three years ago, Le Futiloscope started seeing mushrooms everywhere: in fashions, decoration, cosmetics, on the plates of locavore chefs, but in some New York coffee shops as well, where chaga powder was suddenly added to lattes along with cordyceps or other medicinal mushrooms from China or Siberia. We also heard about mycelium strings that one day may just turn out to be an alternative to plastic (OK, it’s less amusing, but promising nonetheless).
Lately in the United States mushroom mania abounds. There they eat more of them and more often. And you can find more funky varieties there than in France. Roasted, vegans nostalgic for meat, are delighted with them! Not to mention fans of “umami”. Result: last spring locked down foodies grew more than only sourdough! Sales of mushroom kits, to grow your own at home, exploded. And like the new bakers they posted their harvest on social media. Included selfies in T-shirts “I’m a badass shroom farmer” or “I don’t give a shitake!” (there’s lots on Redbubble or Teepublic). At the same time, in a country where the health system is completely ravaged, people rushed en masse to buy mushroom capsules (“functional” or “adaptogenic” as they now call them, much more glamorous than “medicinal”). Chaga, cordyceps, reishi are not only anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, they also boost immunity, it couldn’t hurt!
The whole world market for edible mushrooms is estimated to reach $69 billion in 2024*. There are lots of start-ups on this market. The most publicized is Smallhold, an organic farm located in Brooklyn which has installed its refrigerated glass units in boutique hotels, locavore restaurants and Wholefoods supermarkets. Before ending up on plates or in cocktails, oyster mushrooms grow in quasi aquariums, along with lion’s mane under temperature control and blue light.
Strange, no? In fact, according to scientists the mushroom has not yet finished to astonish us. We still don’t know all there is to know about them. Today only half of all species have been identified. Since they have no chlorophyl, they’re not even classified as plants! Sometimes they even glow in the dark. As to the mycelium, it is able to communicate with the whole vegetal world and is frequently called World Wood Web. Thanks to all this, the mushroom has super ecological powers. Certain varieties, when planted in highly polluted zones (ex: California after the massive forest fires), they are able to “digest” residues of burnt out homes in a few months, asbestos, pesticides, zinc or lead and transform them…into essential nutrients for the soil! Hats off!
In the Anglo-Saxon world, groups of researchers, botanists, herbalists and all sorts of activists advocate for taking a closer look at this humble forest inhabitant. Among the leaders of this movement, there’s the mycologist Patrick McCoy, featured in the documentary “Funghiphilia Rising”, and founder of the movement “Radical Mycology” whose autumn conventions draw hundreds of fans in Oregon. Or his colleague Paul Stamets, whose Ted Talk “6 Ways Mushrooms Can Save the World” has been seen thousands of times. Or the young British botanist Martin Sheldrake, with a name like a magician and the look of a troubadour, who has just published “Entangled Life” a brilliant essay on the same subject. Mushrooms have so many fascinating things to teach us, he recently told The Guardian.
And in France? The trend is coming, of course. The mycological outing will no longer be a pastime of the retired. Because millenials are now picking up grandpa’s hobbies, Bocci ball, fly fishing and even, more recently, ornithology. And not only. The cult of trees in the forest, courses in Shirin Yoku where they embrace hundred-year-old oaks has opened up an avenue toward this modest organism that grows near their feet. Not to forget the growing interest of chefs for foraging.
You’re looking for a Christmas gift for the hipster who has everything? Le Futiloscope has a few suggestions. A stay at the guest house/artist residence “La Folie Barbizon”? Before the lockdown it proposed mycological strolls in the Fontainebleau Forest. A tote bag “Mush Love” or a vial of “Forest Juice” from the brand Rainbo (a mixture of maple syrup, reishi and chaga to sweeten coffee, matcha, granola…). Little sachets of mushroom powder from Malala are also irresistible. But since they come from Hawaii (a paradise for mushroom lovers as well), we can’t guarantee their carbon footprint. And we left the best for last, they have just re-edited “A mycological foray: variations on mushrooms”, the composer John Cage’s notebooks and photos from the 60’s taken during his outings for porcini mushrooms and chanterelles. Clearly, he was a passionate mycologist who sold his harvest to the Four Seasons in New York (experimental music not always paying his way). The book includes a few recipes, and should be the perfect holiday gift for the wannabe fungi hunter in your life.
(*) The Guardian
Photo : Smallhold organic mushroom farm in Brooklyn