10 reasons why we’re in mushroom mania

Mushrooms have a starring role on menus across Madison, growers are cultivating unique varieties, many people are shifting to plant-based diets and home chefs are finding ways to incorporate fungi into dishes.
seven different mushrooms with different shapes
Courtesy of Getty Images

Fungi are having their moment in 2022. Mushrooms have a starring role on menus across Madison, growers are cultivating unique varieties, many people are shifting to plant-based diets and home chefs are finding ways to incorporate fungi into dishes. Here are the reasons why mushrooms should be on your radar right now.

The New York Times’ 2022 ingredient of the year is the mushroom.
Mushrooms are predicted to be a top food trend, especially when it comes to using them as a meat substitute. The Times also says you should expect to see more small urban farms growing mushrooms.

They provide umami, one of the five basic tastes.
Fungi’s full potential is being realized by chefs, partly because of the umami that mushrooms provide. Umami translates as savory, but some think it’s more complex than that. Along with the four other basic tastes of sweet, sour, salty and bitter, umami completes a dish’s flavor profile. The Kroger Co. proclaimed the emerging flavor of umami No. 1 on a list of the top trends for this year. Large brands make umami seasonings using mushrooms, but the trend is also on the radar of local spice makers such as Madison-based The Deliciouser, which sells Umamier, a seasoning using dried mushrooms, sea salt, red miso, onions, garlic and ginger.

Your favorite food businesses are finding unique ways to incorporate fungi into their menus.
RED is constructing shiitake mushroom tempura rolls. Sookie’s Veggie Burgers uses a portobello mushroom as the main ingredient in one of its vegan burgers. King trumpet mushrooms, along with vegan ricotta and Parmesan, shine in a Bar Corallini pasta dish. Gail Ambrosius Chocolatier has a shiitake mushroom chocolate truffle. Fairchild, Kettle Black Kitchen and Cento each transform mushrooms into impressive side dishes. Local spots are fully embracing the star power of this ingredient.

Local enthusiasts like “Mushroom Mike” are shipping thousands of pounds of mushrooms every week.
Formally starting in 2008, Michael “Mushroom Mike” Jozwik (pictured above) built a following by selling his mushrooms directly to Madison-area chefs. Then he expanded to Milwaukee. Jozwik sources mushrooms from foragers and growers across the country and the world, in addition to growing and foraging his own. Jozwik is also building a state-of-the-art mushroom facility southwest of Waukesha starting this fall and hopes to mass-cultivate morels once it’s built.

Speaking of morels, people have hunted the delectable honeycomb-like fungus for centuries, and the popular activity has only grown.
Jozwik found his first morel in 2002 and it launched his mushroom obsession. Another local grower, Joe Landis — who owns Fungi Farmers with his wife, Kari — used to hunt morels with his dad, and that eventually inspired him to grow mushrooms. Morels are typically grown in the spring, and can be found in the wild in Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Mycological Society frequently goes on fungi-hunting missions, or forays. Restaurants have special dishes featuring morels during the season. DelecTable and Cento have hosted morel-focused coursed meals.

Mushrooms are incredibly versatile.
The many varieties of mushrooms can be added to food in a lot of different ways. If you don’t like one type of mushroom, don’t rule them all out. “There’s a lot more out there than just button mushrooms,” says Jozwik. “There are so many people that say, ‘I don’t like mushrooms.’ But there are so many other diverse mushroom textures and flavor profiles that can enhance something and make it mind-blowing.”

There are more than 10,000 kinds in the world.
While not all of them are edible, there are many more available than what you might see at a traditional grocery store. A mushroom grower will likely have a wider array of options. Jozwik has 40 core species of mushrooms available. Fungi Farmers sells fresh culinary and medicinal mushrooms, such as shiitake, oyster and lion’s mane. Vitruvian Farms, which offers those three varieties as well as chestnut mushrooms, produces 500 pounds of organic mushrooms per week. Many growers at farmers’ markets in the Madison area are willing to talk about their products and how you can use them at home.

Interesting varieties inspire creativity in the kitchen.
As a grower, Jozwik says his most prized mushroom is the huitlacoche. It’s known as corn smut, a naturally occurring fungus that grows on corncobs. Huitlacoche was originally discovered and harvested by the Aztecs, and it remains popular in Mexico today for its use in tamales, tortillas and soup. Chef Dan Bonanno of A Pig in a Fur Coat has made pasta with huitlacoche puree, then sautéed huitlacoche and corn and served the dish with melted huitlacoche butter, tarragon and honey. “Huitlacoche is a rare thing to get your hands on here,” Bonanno says. “Usually people throw it away, but … it’s a really cool product to introduce to people who don’t know what it is. We’re using it a different way, and I can’t wait to keep using it.”

They require unique conditions to thrive, and farmers are now fine-tuning the indoor growing process.
“They need a lot of humidity with a temperature around 60 or 70 degrees, and a lot of fresh air,” says Joe Landis. Indoor growing conditions must mirror the natural environments in which mushrooms flourish. “When you see them out in nature, it’s in spring and fall,” says Kari Landis. In order to cultivate a wild mushroom variety, Jozwik tries to replicate the mushroom’s ideal growing conditions.

Cooking with mushrooms is easy.
Fungi Farmers’ Kari Landis says people often ask how they should use mushrooms in the kitchen or what they should do with the different varieties. Mushrooms can be turned into veggie burgers or fritters, or if you don’t want to go vegetarian, you can top a steak with portobello mushrooms or mix shiitake mushrooms with ground meat to add some umami to tacos. Landis recommends barbecuing mushrooms or using a cast-iron skillet over a fire. “Sometimes [customers will] try something new,” she says. “They’ll try it for the first time and really like it, and then share their cooking experience with us.”

Hannah Wente is a contributing writer to Madison Magazine.

Maija Inveiss is an associate editor of Madison Magazine.