Certain fungi, i.e., edible mushrooms, which are quite unique in their nature, form a wonderful food. For it really is wonderful that in just a few hours, after a rain, these structures appear in the woods, having been fully developed in this short time, and containing, as they do, quite large amounts of nutritive substance. The expression “they spring up like mushrooms” indicates how rapidly they really do grow; this wonderful process will be better understood when we remember that the fungi belong to the same large class of plants as the bacteria; the latter, we well know, develop in enormous numbers in a very brief period.
Their wonderfully rapid growth does not prevent the formation of large quantities of valuable nutritive substances, and many of the fungi are very rich in proteids and in carbohydrates. The yellow mushroom, Elaphomyces granulatus, con-tains the large amount of 19.19 per cent. of proteids and 47 per cent. of carbohydrates in the fresh substance, but of the 19.19 per cent. of proteids only 13.40 per cent. is assimilated and of the 47 per cent. of carbohydrates about 10 per cent. is lost. The Fistulina hepatica contains 10.40 per cent. of carbohydrates, of which more than 2 per cent. is lost. Nevertheless, these fungi are very nutritious, and one may readily under-stand why mushrooms are considered by some as vegetable meats, and why a French authorBertillon, I believecalled them “Gibier sans pattes” (game without feet). Just like game, many of them live in the woods in damp, dark places, but among these many are poisonous. Their toxic properties may perhaps frequently be due to decayed animal substances or other dead organisms in the ground, which have been absorbed by the fungi. Even the edible varieties of the latter may, at times, have a poisonous action, as they become very rapidly decomposed when kept for any length of time. Just as soon as they are formed they also begin to deteriorate, a property which they have in common with many other organ-isms. Mushrooms and other fungi should therefore be used when quite fresh, and to have them warmed up a second time is always very poor economy. Mushrooms, owing to their pronounced taste, are often used to flavor other foods, and are also helpful for the digestion. As a general thing when eaten alone they are very indigestible. This is due to the fact that most of them contain a large amount of cellulose. When one touches them, their tough consistency can at once be felt, and, even when cooked, one feels in one’s mouth that they contain a hard fiber, and cannot be readily masticated. Mushrooms belong to the more easily digested varieties; they contain only 0.83 per cent, of cellulose; the Cantharellus cibarius have 0.96 per cent, of raw cellulose, the Fistulina hepatica 0.83 per cent., while the Morchella elata have 0.8 per cent. The most difficult to digest is the truffle, which contains 7.20 per cent. of cellulose, and when dried even as much as 27 per cent. It is really one of the most indigestible food substances. The other varieties above mentioned may be recommended as being digestible, but certainly not the truffle. They are particularly not to be recommended, too, when we consider the shameless and unappetizing way in which they are imitated. The best and least indigestible variety comes from Périgord, in France. The indigestibility of the truffle does not prevent its being in great demand by “gourmands,” and France furnishes them’ to the amount of several millions of marks per year.
Although some varieties of fungi are very rich in nitrogenous substances, only a portion of these can be taken into account, since only 62.88 per cent, of the nitrogenous compounds include true protein which can be assimilated by the tissues. Of the true protein, according to the experiments on man by Saltet and Uffelman with mushrooms as they are usually prepared, only 6r to 66 per cent. can be assimilated; with air-dried and pulverized mushrooms as much as 72 per cent. can be digested. The experiments of Morner show that of the nitrogenous substance contained in the fungi and edible mushrooms only about 60 per cent. can be digested.
According to the above tables, quite a considerable amount of nutritive substances is contained in many fungi and mushrooms. Although the assimilation of the same is made difficult by the amount of cellulose they contain, this process is somewhat aided by the fact that a portion of the proteid con-tent does not consist of protein compounds ; there, nevertheless, remains quite considerable nutritive value. The following is a list of the most nourishing fungi, together with the number of calories furnished by them :
Fungi and mushrooms. Calories 1000 grams
Elaphomyces granulatus 2163 Truffle 495 Fistulina hepatica 393 Boletus bulbosus 369 Morchella elata 279 Cantharellus cibarius 290 Helvella lacunosa 295
The varieties containing the least cellulose are usually the most digestible. In these are included the field mushroom, Helvella lacunosa, Morchella elata, Fistulina hepatica, etc. In order to make them more digestible, the fungi must be thoroughly cooked during quite a long time, whereby a very good tasting juice is obtained. The long cooking sometimes re-moves substances which might prove injurious; therefore a long cooking, and then leaving the sauce unused, would be by far the best plan whenever there is the least doubt as to the kind and quality of the mushrooms. According to Lamie, prolonged cooking will render even the poisonous varieties innocuous, and other authors say that the same is the case when they have been placed in vinegar or salted. It is much the best, however, not to eat such suspicious varieties at all. Many rules have been given by which they can be recognized, such as the peculiar and unpleasant odor when they are cut open, the discoloration of the cut surfaces, and other peculiarities. But for the inexperienced gatherer or purchaser these are insufficient and not always infallible.
The safest plan, in Austria, is to buy the mushrooms in the market, where they have been examined by the market inspectors.
In addition to their frequently high nutritive value fungi often contain other valuable substances, such as phosphorus and lecithin. The following is a list of a number of varieties, with their content of these substances.
Another valuable property of the fungi and mushrooms is that they contain considerable amounts of various nutrient salts. Some of them contain much ironthe truffle, for in-stance, which is rich in salts in general. The mineral-salt content of the truffle, which is really a plant growing in the earth, may depend upon the composition of the soil in which they grow. Besides the truffles the Helvella lacunosa and the Boletus varieties are also very rich in nutrient salts.
When we consider the great nutritive value of the fungi and mushrooms, their content of important substances, such as lecithin, as well as of many nutrient salts, they must be regarded as an excellent food. Their use is to be particularly recommended as component of a vegetable diet, but a good stomach and intestine are required for their digestion.