Good for the tummy and the brain

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We’re made of memories – what we’ve experienced, wept and laughed over, and the tools we’ve learned to make us functioning, accomplished members of our families and society. So we’re all naturally keen to do everything in our power to make our brains and bodies, which house our memories, function optimally.  

The key to this may be as simple as a liberal scattering of white button mushrooms in our everyday eating. A 2015 US study submitted to the peer-reviewed journal Nutrition Research found that “daily supplementation with mushroom (Agaricus bisporus) improves balance and working memory in aged rats.”

In fact, after just 8-10 weeks of eating mushrooms, there was an improvement in “balance, coordination, muscle strength, and learning and memory”. Now who wouldn’t want that?

Agaricus bisporus is the scientific name for your average white button mushroom, easily bought in most supermarkets. And white button, portabellini and big brown or portabello mushrooms are in fact the same mushroom, just at different stages of development.

In a world with increasing rates of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and other forms of dementia, another 2022 US study published in Brain Sciences, and “conducted to bring attention to the importance of environmental factors in mitigating neurodegenerative diseases”, found that the “white button mushroom diet appeared to ameliorate the spatial memory deficits seen in transgenic AD mice as they increase in age.”

It would seem that adding mushrooms to your diet is a “no brainer” for the health of your mind and memories. Fortunately, they are really easy to incorporate, as they are not only readily available, they are a highly economical alternate to animal sources of protein in the diet.

When it comes to Blue Zone eating, mushrooms have been found to be a staple. The term Blue Zone, as defined by medical website Healthline, is “a non-scientific term given to geographic regions that are home to some of the world’s oldest people.”

Writing on the Blue Zone site, Robert Beelman, PhD, professor of food science at Pennsylvania State University, describes mushrooms as disease-fighting stars. “In the past, food scientists like me often praised mushrooms as healthy because of what they don’t contribute to the diet; they contain no cholesterol and gluten and are low in fat, sugars, sodium and calories,” he notes.

“But that was selling mushrooms short. They are very healthy foods and could have medicinal properties, because they are good sources of protein, B-vitamins, fibre, immune-enhancing sugars found in the cell walls called beta-glucans, and other bioactive compounds.

“Important nutrients in mushrooms include selenium, vitamin D, glutathione and ergothioneine. All are known to function as antioxidants that can mitigate oxidative stress and all are known to decline during ageing. Oxidative stress is considered the main culprit in causing the diseases of ageing such as cancer, heart disease and dementia.”

So there you have it folks, mushrooms may well be the path to better memory in later years and that not-so-elusive elixir of long life we all desire.

Ways to make more of mushrooms in your meal plan:

  • Blendability – simply substitute half the meat in any dish like bobotie, tacos or pot pies with an equal quantity of finely chopped fresh white button mushrooms. They bring added umami flavour to each dish, as well as fibre, while lowering overall calories – win-win!
  • Bulk out meals – meat is expensive, so by adding fresh portabellinis or other mushrooms to stews, casseroles, bredies and potjies, you can feed a lot more people without paying substantially more.
  • Eat for every meal – mushrooms are good with breakfast eggs, lunchtime salads and evening “meat and three veg” meals like Lamb & Mushroom Meatball Pitas or Sautéed Portabellos, Steak, Coriander Mash & Pea Purée.
  • Raw or cooked – raw fresh mushrooms have a beautifully creamy, earthy and clean flavour when sliced and scatted over fresh ingredients, as with Mushroom Carpaccio. Mushrooms also act like a sponge for flavours both subtle and strong in cooking, adapting well to all cooking methods, from sauté to sous vide.
  • Meat substitute – big browns are simple to substitute for burger patties, steaks on the braai, chicken in saucy braises. The list is limited only by your imagination.

Here are two more delicious mushroom recipes you can try at home:

Portabello Eggs Florentine

Image supplied by the South African Mushroom Farmer’s Association.

Serves 2

Ingredients:

  • 4 large portabello mushrooms
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed into a paste
  • 200g swiss chard, roughly chopped
  • 100g smoked salmon or trout

Hollandaise:

  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 tsp water
  • 2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus more to taste
  • 115g butter
  • 1 pinch of salt

Fresh chives, chopped, for serving, lemon wedges, for serving, salt and pepper, to taste and olive oil, for cooking

 

Method:

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Place the mushrooms on a baking tray. Drizzle with olive oil, brush with garlic and season well with salt and pepper. Bake for ± 10 minutes until tender.

Meanwhile, heat another drizzle of olive oil in a medium-sized pan. Add the swiss chard and sauté just until the chard has wilted.

For the poached eggs: Bring a pot of water to a boil. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Crack eggs, one at a time, into separate bowls. Swirl the water into a gentle vortex. Gently slip the eggs one by one into the boiling water. Cook for about 3 minutes each for soft poached eggs.

Using a slotted spoon, scoop the poached eggs out of the water and place on paper towel to drain.

For the hollandaise: Find a jug that snugly fits the head of a stick blender. Combine the egg yolks, water, lemon juice and a pinch of salt in the bottom of the jug. Melt butter in a small saucepan over high heat, until bubbling. Remove from the heat.

Place the head of the stick blender into the bottom of the cup and turn it on. With the blender constantly going, slowly drizzle the hot butter into the jug. Continue pouring until you have used all the butter and the sauce is thick and emulsified. Taste to adjust seasoning.

To assemble: Divide the chard equally on top of the portabello mushrooms. Follow with the salmon, a squeeze of lemon juice then top each with a poached egg. Spoon over the hollandaise sauce and sprinkle with chives, salt and pepper.

Serve immediately and enjoy!

 

Lentil & Mushroom Burger with Mushroom Bun

Image supplied by the South African Mushroom Farmer’s Association.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

Patty:

  • 400g white button mushrooms
  • 2 x 400g tin brown lentils, rinsed and drained
  • ½ red onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, grated
  • 1 Tbsp smoked paprika
  • ¼ cup flour
  • ¼ cup breadcrumbs
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Avocado salsa:

  • 1 large ripe tomato, diced (or use a handful of colourful cherry tomatoes)
  • ½  red onion, diced
  • 2 small – medium sized avocados
  • ¼ cup fresh coriander leaves
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • Freshly ground pink peppercorns, to taste
  • Salt, to taste

To serve:

  • 8 large portabello mushrooms
  • 2 large carrots, peeled & peeled further into ribbons
  • 2 cups mixed lettuce
  • Sesame seeds

Side suggestion- Sweet potato fries & mayo

 

Method:

For the patty: Blitz mushrooms in a food processor until finely diced. Add mushrooms to a hot pan with a drizzle of olive oil. Cook out all of their water. Work in batches if necessary to not overcrowd the pan. Scrape mushrooms into a large bowl.

Add the lentils to the dry hot pan and toast them until dry. Add to the bowl of cooked mushrooms.

In the same pan add a fresh drizzle of olive oil and cook the onion until soft. Add the garlic and paprika and cook for a minute until fragrant. Add to the bowl of mushrooms and lentils.

Add the flour, breadcrumbs and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Mix everything well together. Mash some of the mixture against the side of the bowl. Keeping some of the lentils whole and some more mashed gives the patty great texture.

Divide the mixture into 4. The patties will be around 180g each. Fry patties in a little drizzle of olive oil until golden brown on both sides.

For the salsa: Place all ingredients in a medium bowl and lightly mash together.

Season well.

To build the burger: Place the 8 portabellos on a wire rack on top of a baking tray. Sprinkle with a little seasoning and roast for ± 7 minutes at 200˚C until tender. Brush with a little BBQ sauce or any brown sauce to give them a glazed and shiny look. Slice a little off 4 of the portobello “bottom buns” so they sit flat. Top with a generous pile of greens and carrot ribbons. Place a lentil and mushroom patty on each one.

Top with a generous amount of the avocado salsa and finish with the top portobello bun. Sprinkle with sesame seeds for a burger effect and serve alongside some crunchy sweet potato fries.

 

Text and images: South African Mushroom Farmer’s Association.

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