25 August, 2023
Exotic gourmet mushrooms a boost to health
Renowned for containing anti-cancer compounds, many people would be surprised to know that Shiitake mushrooms are being grown right here on the Atherton Tablelands.
Owned by Leah and Brad Peppler, Foggy Mountain Mushrooms is an established mushroom growing business at Tarzali on the Atherton Tablelands which produces fresh and affordable, exotic gourmet mushrooms which have a host of nutritional and medicinal benefits.
Differing from the common button mushroom, Shiitake mushrooms are not only extremely flavorful, but also have medicinal qualities like the King Oyster mushroom.
Their rich, smoky flavor and tender bite make this mushroom a perfect addition to any dish.
When sauteed, their flavor is intensified.
The Shiitake mushroom is native to Asia and grows in forests, and due to its large demand, is now the second most commonly cultivated mushroom in the world.
Its medicinal benefits are profound and Shiitake mushrooms are proving to be greatly beneficial in cancer research.
Oyster mushrooms, which includes the King Oyster, are firm, yet tender and have a sweet, subtle flavor.
They have become one of the most commonly eaten mushrooms and are often used in Asian cuisine.
Mushrooms are sometimes referred to as the vegetarian’s steak, making them perfect for vegetarian and vegan diets.
The cultivation of mushrooms is referred to as fungiculture with the person who works with mushrooms/fungi being called a mycologist.
Co-owner of Foggy Mountain Mushrooms and grower Leah Peppler said she first became interested in growing mushrooms after hearing a talk given by Dr Steve Akew who established Upper Barron Mushrooms.
Along with her husband Brad, she first started learning how to grow mushrooms seven years ago.
They then built their own small mushroom growing operation, complete with a mushroom laboratory, two years ago.
“We grow four varieties of shiitake and five varieties of oyster but I dabble in growing other varieties like Simiji, Chestnut, Pioppino and King Oyster,” Leah said.
“Because we are a small family run operation our production on a yearly basis is about 350kg to 400kg Shiitake.
“The current price that growers receive for them is anywhere from $40 to $60/kg.
“At the moment, to my knowledge, there are only two farms producing gourmet mushrooms on a commercial basis on the Atherton Tablelands."
“Mushroom growing is gaining a lot of interest generally all over the world."
Despite the amount of locally grown mushrooms which are currently produced, Leah feels there is scope for expansion in the industry and room in the market, including for new growers to enter the industry here on the Tablelands.
She has seen exotic gourmet mushrooms in local supermarkets which have come from southern growers.
However, she acknowledges that the current price of electricity and fuel will make things difficult for producers to expand their production and she is not aware of any new mushroom growers entering the industry at present.
Depending on where a potential grower lives and how much they wish to produce, there could also be a substantial amount of investment associated with establishing a mushroom growing operation.
Those interested in entering the mushroom growing industry must be aware of the full extent of what is involved for their successful production.
“Do lots of research. There is lots of information out there in books and on the internet,” Leah said.
“Shiitake take two to three months from making the block to harvesting.
“Oyster mushrooms are faster, taking 3 to 4 weeks from start to harvest.
“Growing mushrooms is a specialised area with growers needing to be able to sterilise/pasteurise the block substrate as well as needing to have access to a laboratory or similar set of facilities.
“Incubation must occur in a dark area and they must have access to a room which provides adequate growing conditions.
“The requirements for growing mushrooms are correct temperature, light, humidity and O2/Co2 levels.
“The humidity of the coast is too hot in summer but you can set up the right growing conditions using controlled grow tunnels.
“The raw block must first be made, then it needs to be sterilized to kill competing bacteria.
“In a laboratory, the block needs to be seeded with pre-grown mycelium, then incubated for the period of time required depending on the species.
“Finally, the block is opened when it’s ready to fruit and within the week the mushrooms are ready to be picked.”
James Cook University (JCU) is currently doing research into ways of being able to enhance mushroom growth on Leah and Brad’s exotic gourmet mushroom growing operation.
The nutritional benefits of mushrooms are immense with Shiitake mushrooms containing anti-cancer compounds, boosting the immune system, having anti-inflammatory properties, supporting weight loss and being one of the best sources of vitamin D.
"While there are quite a few people who enjoy eating mushrooms raw, the general recommendation is to cook them first," Leah said.
“There is a condition called Shiitake Dermatitis if you consume too many in one sitting.”
Leah advises that, unless you are a mushroom expert, mushrooms harvested in the wild should never, ever be eaten.
Foggy Mountain Mushrooms has valued-added to their produce and is now making a delicious range of mushroom pate, chilli mushroom sauce, mushroom tapenade, mushroom jerky and Japanese style pickle mushroom.
They also produce a range of medicinal mushrooms which include Lion’s Mane, Turkey Tail and Reishi.