Chapter 11: Exploiting fungi for food

Fungal biomass is a high-quality food source because it contains a good content of protein (typically 20-30% crude protein as a percentage of dry matter), which contains all of the amino acids which are essential to human and animal nutrition. Add characteristically low fat content to the protein, a chitinous wall as a source of dietary fibre, useful vitamin content, especially of B-vitamins, and carbohydrate in the form of glycogen and a good food source can be considered an ideal food. Judging from archaeological and similar finds, mushrooms, toadstools and bracket fungi have been used by man since before recorded history for both food and medicinal purposes.

We currently depend on fungi and fungal products every hour of every day and this chapter will concentrate on the human fungal foodstuffs and beverages in current use (Moore, 2001; Zied & Pardo-Giménez, 2017; Koul & Farooq, 2020; Singh et al., 2021). However, before turning to this aspect we want to deal with the ways that other animals make use of fungi. Fungi feature prominently in food webs, and wild fungi are picked commercially, too. But it’s not solely a matter of ‘picking mushrooms’; fungal cells and mycelium are used as human food, and fungi are used to prepare many commonly-used fermented foods, so there is a need to consider several different industrial cultivation methods. Finally, to make the point that we are not the only animals that cultivate fungi, we will discuss the relationship between gardening insects and their fungi, though we will describe these mutualisms in detail in Chapter 15.

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Updated June, 2021