Treasures of Farm and Forest
Mushrooms have been on the human menu for thousands of years, and the early cultivated variety—the white button mushroom—is now a familiar sight in grocery stores around the world. In recent years, it has been joined by portabella, brown and various specialty mushrooms, many of which Canada exports.
Canada is one of the world's largest exporters of fresh mushrooms.
Mushrooms contribute to many cuisines, and add flavour and character to a huge range of stews, soups, casseroles sauces, salads and side dishes. Their taste intensifies as they are cooked, and they can be sautéed, grilled, baked, stir-fried or braised.
As a main ingredient, they are endlessly adaptable—prosciutto-wrapped mushrooms, mushroom risotto, mushroom tortellini or balsamic mushrooms will add distinction to any table. They are ideal for vegetarian dishes because of their meaty texture and flavour, and dried mushrooms, infused in water, create a delicious stock.
But there is more to mushrooms than their unique flavours. They are also very healthy, with almost no fat or cholesterol, few calories or carbohydrates, and little sodium. They are a good source of riboflavin, niacin and other vitamins, and provide both essential and trace minerals such as iron, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, copper and selenium.
A varied harvest
White button, brown button and portabella mushrooms account for most of Canada's commercial crop. The white variety is mild in flavour and may be eaten raw or cooked. For a richer, earthier flavour when cooked, or a nutty taste when raw, chefs often turn to brown button mushrooms, also known as criminis. Portabellas, which can be several inches across, are solid and meaty, and are excellent for grilling, roasting or stuffing.
Canada's mushroom farms also produce specialty mushrooms, often called gourmet mushrooms. These are the cream of the crop and include shiitakes, which have a woodsy flavour and are ideal for stir fries, and pastas. The delicate taste and slight crunch of enoki mushrooms make them a favourite in Asian dishes, but they are also tasty when eaten raw. Oyster mushrooms have a delicate, mild flavour, and their velvety texture is a fine complement to chicken, seafood and pork.
All these varieties are grown year-round in specially constructed, extremely clean rooms on Canada's mushroom farms. These growing rooms are steam-sterilized between crops, and the growth medium is pasteurized before the mushroom spawn is planted. All Canadian mushrooms are harvested by hand, and the pickers take great care not to bruise or scratch the fragile crop. To ensure quality and freshness, the mushrooms are refrigerated right on the farm as soon as they have been picked.
Canada takes great care to ensure that all its foods are safe to eat, and mushrooms are no exception. Mushrooms Canada, a non-profit organization that includes growers, processors and researchers, has helped develop the On-Farm Food Safety Program for mushrooms, and this program complies with both the standards of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) international standard.
Savour the wild
Some of the most delectable Canadian mushrooms, however, have never seen the inside of a growing room. These are the wild mushrooms of Canada's cool northern forests, where the regular rainfall and rich soils provide a perfect habitat for morels, chanterelles, pine mushrooms and other exotic varieties. Some appear for only a week and are very fragile, so many mushroom harvesters must become experts in each variety's life cycle and in knowing which ones are safe to eat, since many wild mushrooms are poisonous.
In some Canadian forests, high-quality pine mushrooms and chanterelles are so abundant when in season that they are flown to overseas markets to be sold fresh. However, because their fruiting seasons are so short, most Canadian wild mushrooms are dried before being sold. This isn't merely to preserve them for convenient use—with many varieties of mushroom, drying actually intensifies their flavours. Canada's wild mushrooms are perfectly suited to many dishes, but are especially good with Canadian wild rice, a sauté of beef, poultry stuffing or potato gratin.
Taste the Canadian difference
Grown, harvested and processed to the highest standards, Canadian mushrooms have few equals anywhere. For further information about Canada's mushroom industry, please visit:
- Agri-Food Trade Service: www.ats-sea.agr.gc.ca
- Canadian Food Inspection Agency: www.inspection.gc.ca
- Mushrooms Canada: www.mushrooms.ca
- L'association pour la commercialisation des champignons forestiers: www.acchf.ca
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