Meat cultured in a lab, burgers that taste exactly like beef but are pure plant! It’s the stuff of science fiction… and yet very much a reality.

While these scientific solutions are necessary to our world’s ever-more pressing environmental and health problems, on World Health Day (7 April), we are celebrating a simple, sustainable solution that has been sitting on supermarket shelves all along. Step forward the delicious, healthy and nutritious, versatile, meaty-textured fresh mushroom! Made by nature, mushrooms have always been a natural and budget-friendly protein alternatives.  These ‘friends with benefits’ also offer an amazing range of additional health attributes.

But first, protein. There are nine essential amino acids that combine to produce protein and mushrooms have them all! That means fresh mushrooms are one of the only sources of complete protein from plants. Additionally, both cooked and uncooked mushrooms contain high-quality proteins that are easily absorbed and, due to their high digestibility, mushroom protein sources may also be a superior option for those with indigestion or mal-absorption issues.

Although there is just 2,1g of protein in 100g of Portabella mushrooms and 3,1g of protein in 100g of White Button mushrooms, it is important to highlight that the types of protein in mushrooms are more important than the amount. The common protein in mushrooms is lectins, which binds to the surface of cancer cells to prevent them from proliferating and also stimulate the production of insulin to assist in controlling glucose levels. Moreover, the protein & polysaccharides in mushrooms are found to have anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties to complement the immune system. Lastly, another thumbs up for the protein in mushrooms: 70% of mushroom protein is digestible which makes it a moderate quality protein (vs animal protein is 100% digestible) BUT the undigested protein improves gut health because on entering the colon it prevents pathogenic bacteria from adhering to the gut wall.

Now isn’t that a case of everyone missing the sauce for the burger patty…

Other health points to note are that fresh mushrooms are almost fat-free, are low in kilojoules and have zero cholesterol – the skinny grail for anyone on a diet! And did you know they are full of fibre, so they take care of hanger pangs pretty sharpish – and keep them away for longer.

Fresh mushrooms also contain essential minerals, including potassium, selenium, phosphorous and copper, and are packed with B vitamins and even immune-boosting vitamin C. And almost magically, fresh mushrooms will produce their own vitamin D – just leave them in a sunny spot for an hour or two and they do all the work for you!

It’s great to have so many vegetarian, vegan and flexitarian options on restaurant menus nowadays, but sometimes the jaw-dropping cost can be a little hard to swallow.

Pretty much “cheap as chips”, fresh mushrooms are not only readily available all year round, they are endlessly adaptable to the whims of your inner celeb-chef and easily take the place of meat in so many ways….

On the braai…

Skewer your mushrooms with or without cubes of steak and chicken, add loads of other veg or just pack them with butter as a garlic bread replacement and sizzle over the coals. Big browns are also great grilled whole as a no-fuss steak alternative – particularly good with chimichurri poured over.


A grilled big brown mushroom makes a mouthwatering substitute for a burger patty, and you can still load the bun with all your favourite accompaniments, from ketchup to kimchi. Or ditch the bun rather than the meat and sandwich your patty of choice between two Portabellas!


Try mushrooms either as the pizza base if you are carb-conscious, or generously scatter the sliced fungi as a topping. They even work brilliantly as a hidden veg in Meatza.

Simmered and baked…

From skinny bobotie to mushroom stroganoff, sliced, diced and minced fresh mushroom can be the star or play a substantial supporting role in all your family favourites.

In fact, there isn’t a savoury ingredient, herb, stock or sauce we can think of that doesn’t go well with fresh mushrooms. And with zero extra prep required, fresh mushrooms may well be your best supermarket buy today.