MUSHROOMS

 INTRODUCTION

.,................Mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of macrofungi. They include both edible/medicinal and poisonous species. However, originally, the word “mushroom” was used for the edible members of macrofungi and “toadstools” for poisonous ones of the “gill” macrofungi. Scientifically the term “toadstool” has no meaning at all and it has been proposed that the term is dropped altogether in order to avoid confusion and the terms edible, medicinal and poisonous mushrooms are used. Edible mushrooms once called the “food of the gods” and still treated as a garnish or delicacy can be taken regularly as part of the human diet or be treated as healthy food or as functional food. The extractable products from medicinal mushrooms, designed to supplement the human diet not as regular food, but as the enhancement of health and fitness, can be classified into the category of dietary supplements/mushroom nutriceuticals (Chang and Buswell, 1996). Dietary supplements are ingredients extracted from foods, herbs, mushrooms and other plants that are taken without further modification for their presumed health-enhancing benefits.

There is an old Chinese saying which states that “MEDICINES AND FOODS HAVE A COMMON ORIGIN”. Mushrooms constitute a most rapidly growing new food category which the current health-oriented public is increasingly enjoying. Since mushrooms lack chlorophyll they can not, like green plants, get their energy from the sun through photosynthesis. Instead, during their vegetative growth stage, mushroom mycelia secrete enzymes that break down compounds such as cellulose and lignin present in the substrate. The degraded compounds are then absorbed by the hyphae  and the mycelium enlarges-usually laterally, and in some cases growing several meters in diameter with the substrate.Partially understood environmental factors (temperature and light are known to be critical) stimulate the second or reproductive growth stage. Cells of one mycelial strain fuse with cells of the opposite type to form a mycelium that contains  both types of nuclei. The new mycelium continues to grow and eventually develops into a mature fruiting body, the gills of which are lined with spore bearing cells called basidia. Various mechanisms trigger the dispersal of spores, which in turn lodge in a substrate, become hyphae and begin the cycle anew. Mushroom cultivation has great scope in China, India and in some of other developing countries because of the cheap and easily available raw materials needed for this activity, coupled with faster means of communication and marketing (as a fresh commodity), and better purchasing power of the people. Using China as for example, in 1978, the production of edible mushrooms was only 60,000 tonnes. In 2006, China’s mushroom production was over 14 million tonnes. Now there are more than 30 million people directly or indirectly engaged in mushroom production and businesses, and now China has become a leading mushroom producer and consumer in the world.

Mushroom farming is both a science and an art. The science is developed through research the art is perfected through curiosity and practical experience. However, mushroom farming is a business which requires precision. Indeed, it is not as simple as what some people often loosely stipulate. It calls for adherence to precise procedures. If you ignore one critical step, you are inviting trouble, which could lead to a substantially reduced mushroom crop yield. For example, if you fail to adjust the pH of the substrate to a critical level required by the specific mushroom species your are cultivating, or if you do not properly pasteurize the substrate (to free the mushroom spawn of other moulds and various bacteria), your planted mushroom could be outcompeted by unwanted, intrusive micro-organisms. 

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