Sunday, February 05, 2006

Uses of Fungi

Fungi have been used as a food source since the beginning of recorded history. Mushrooms add flavor, texture, and nutritional value to many dishes. In North America in recent years, a variety of mushrooms have gained popularity, including portabella, cremini, oyster, morel, chantarelle, wood or tree ear, truffle, matsutake, and shiitake.Truffles—tuber-like, fleshy fungi with a characteristic taste and aroma—are highly prized by gourmet chefs. Harvested most commonly in France and northern Italy, truffles are collected with the aid of trained dogs or pigs that use scent to hunt these fungi hidden beneath the soil. The price for truffles in Europe may reach as high as $500 (U.S.) per pound in some years.

Other fungi are used in the manufacture of foods. Yeast, for example, is added to fruit juice, which it ferments to produce wine. Yeasts also are used in the manufacturing of beer, and they are added to dough to make bread rise, producing more volume and a lighter texture in the final baked product. Certain molds are used to ripen cheeses, such as Brie, Camembert, and the characteristic blue-veined Roquefort. In Asia, fungi are added to soybeans and allowed to ferment to make several food products—soy sauce is made with the mold Aspergillus, and tempeh is made with the black bread mold Rhizopus.
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