P ickaging and Stoi ing the Crop for Market

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Growing Mushrooms at Home

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Once mushrooms have been harvested, chey must be quickly chilled. Most pickers at mushroom farms place mushrooms directly into open-grate plastic baskets which are frequently ferried to the cold room. The larger farms utilize blast chillers, which precipitously drop the temperature of the mushroom from room temperature to near freezing. A common mistake many growers make is to place their fresh mushroom directly into cardboard boxes after picking. Cardboard boxes insulate the mushrooms after harvest, essentially preventing them from being rapidly cooled. During or after cooling, mushrooms are sorted and packaged. Once cooled, the mushrooms must not be re-warmed until delivery The ideal temperature for storage is 34° F. (1-2° C.). (See Lomax (1990) and Hardenburg (1986)).

Mushrooms are sorted according to markets to which they are destined. The Japanese are by far the connoisseurs of the world in terms of quality standards for marketing. So strict are their standards that many North American growers have been unable to penetrate the Japanese market. The Japanese also have the advantage of having a large pool of specialty growers who can coordinate their product lines to best fill their complex market requirements. Mushrooms are carefully graded according to type, size and form. Currently, in North America the markets are relatively unsophisticated and the primary concern is for freshness. In the United States, a loosely adhered-to grading system is followed by some growers, buyers, and sellers. Number #1 Shiitakes are usually 3-5 inches across, dark brown in color, with incurved margins, usually adorned with veil remnants. Number #2 are basically #l's which have more or less fully expanded. Number #2's are often lighter in color and exceed 4-5 inches in diameter. Number#3's show some damage, either to the gills or cap margin and are often deformed. Number #3's vary in size from tiny to excessive large mushrooms. I find it interesting that Americans, as a culture, have historically favored large mushrooms. Currently, in markets in San Francisco, large Shiitake are selling for several dollars per pound more than small ones.

Once mushrooms are sorted to grade, they are packaged for market. Restaurants generally prefer 5-7 lb. boxes. (See Figures 379.) Packages for consumers typically weigh 3, 5 or 7 ounces, a trick employed by many marketers to disguise the actual price per pound. (It not easy for the consumer to divide 16 ounces (1 lb.) by 3, 5, or 7 to determine the actual price per pound.) In the United States, packages of fresh mushrooms should be small enough so that they can be grasped by one hand, and ideally retail at or below $2.00. Once the sale price to the consumer exceeds the $2.00 threshold a precipitous decline in sales is seen. If every 3 oz. package sold for $2.00, the retail price would be $ 10.66 per lb. Most retailers consider a 40% mark-up fair. This gives the growers $6.40/lb. at the wholesale level.

Another tactic commonly used with the Button mushroom is to sell the mushrooms loose in a tray, and have the consumers fill small paper bags imprinted with information on handling, cooking, etc... The consumer can be more selective in picking the mushrooms most desirable. However, every time the mushrooms are rummaged through they suffer in quality. Although Button mushrooms are often sold

Figure 380. An example of poor packaging. Note mushrooms lie on Styrofoam base. They were covered with plastic. This package was photographed directly after purchase. This is the "sajor-caju" strain of Pleurotus pulmonarius. Thousands of pri mordia are forming on the adult mushrooms as they rot. Mushrooms in this condition, if eaten, cause se vere cramping, diarrhea, and gastro-intestinal discord.

Figure 380. An example of poor packaging. Note mushrooms lie on Styrofoam base. They were covered with plastic. This package was photographed directly after purchase. This is the "sajor-caju" strain of Pleurotus pulmonarius. Thousands of pri mordia are forming on the adult mushrooms as they rot. Mushrooms in this condition, if eaten, cause se vere cramping, diarrhea, and gastro-intestinal discord.

loose, the gourmet mushrooms, being more f ragile,, are best sold packaged,

Covered with clear, anti-condensate, breathable plastic, mushrooms can be preserved for extended periods of l'me. A patent was awarded to Asahi-Dow Ltd. for a vapor-permeable film specifically designed for extending the shelf ol Shiitake. (See Japanese Patent # 57,163,414 (82,163,414)). The rate of diffusion of carbon dioxide gi\ in the best results was within 5000-40,000ml./sq. m. at atmospheric pressure over 24 hours. The optimal range of oxygen diffusion was 2000-20,000 ml/m2 at atmospheric pressure in 24 hours. This new generation of anti-condensaie gas-permeable films must be carefully matched with a cardboard base or strawberry-like basket. Even with shelf life being extended, mushrooms should be rotated through stores at least twice weekly to ensure the highest quality product. Oyster mushrooms in particular are quick to spoil.

The greatest insult to marketing gourmet mushrooms can be seen by vendors who buy large quantities of Oyster mushrooms from production factories whose main concern: ; yield, not qualily. Oyster, Enok' and other mushrooms, when they spoil, cause severe abdominal cramping, nausea, and gastrointes-linal upset. (See Figure 380.) Once customers have experienced these "gourmet" mushrooms, they are unlikely to ever buy them again. Remember, mushrooms are first suspected and first blamed for any type of food poisoning, whether they are at fault or not. (For more information on the proper handling of mushrooms after harvesting, please consult Murr& Morris, 1975.)

By drying mushrooms, cultivators recapture much of the revenue that would otherw;se be lost due to over-production. Most mushrooms are approximately 90% water. Reishi mushrooms, being woody in texture, are usually between 70-80% water. When Slr'take are grown outside, especially in the Donko (cracked cap) form, moisture content is often only 80%. When mushrooms are young, moisture contents are usually higher than when they are mature. Mature mushrooms, with their gills exposed, dry faster than young, closed mushrooms.

Shiitake Oyster Morels Rt:shi and many other mushrooms dry readily and can be stored for many months. Mushrooms can be sold in their

Figure 381. A commercial dehydrator utilizing a large volume of air to remove moisture from mushron s-Fresh mushrooms are placed onto screened shelves on wheeled racks, entering the drier downstream from the drying mushrooms. Hundreds of pounds of mushrooms can be dried at one time, ^expensively.

natural form or powdered for soups, spice mix tares, teas, etc. Some cultivators actually sterilize their dried mushrooms, withoutharm, to prolong storage. Sterilization assures that no bacteria, insect eggs, or other microorganisms consume the crop during storage. Once dried, the mushrooms should be hermetically sealed, anu ideally1 frozen until needed.

Many types of dehydrators can be used for drying mushrooms.The smallest are those also marketed for home use in the drying of fruits, meat, and fish. For most growers, home dehydrators have insufficient capacity so many fashion their own dehydrators. Window screens can be stacked within a vertical framework. 34 inches apart. At the bottom heat lamps or an electric coil, are positioned. Ample air inlets are located near ground level. The vertical frame work is solid save for a hinged door on one face which allows easy insertion and retrieval of trays A fan is located at the top, draw:ng air out of the dehydrator. This arrangement insures a chimney effect whereby heated air is drawn through the bottom and exhausted out the top. The humidity of the incoming air greatly affects the efficiency of this type of dryer. Some growers locate their dryers in hot rooms, typically low humidity greenhouse-like environments, which helps the drying process.

The best commercial dryer I have seen is also the simplest. Mushrooms are placed onto trays and stacked into vertical racks equipped with wheels. The wheeled racks are inserted into a large plastic wind tunnel. (See Figure 381 .)The plastic wind tunnel can be kept inflated by hoops of plastic pipe and through the force of

Figure 382.10-kilogram liags of dried Shiitake displayed for sale in a market in Chir.a-

a large blower located at one end. Trays with fresh mushrooms are moved into the wind tunnel furthest downstream The fully dried mushrooms are retrieved through an overlapping "flap-door" nearest to the fan. For most cultivators, this type of commercial dehydrator does not require a heat source. The huge volume of air removes the moisture through evap oraiion.

Depending upon the species and the final product desired, mushrooms can be placed gills down or gills up. By placing Shii'ake mushrooms with their gids down, the mushrooms remain flatter in drying and take on a more brittle texture. Most experienced Shi: ake growers find that by drying mushrooms, gills facing up, that the cap curls inwards, fi ing the mushroom an overall Lighter and more resilient texture. This form is the one most recognized by Asians.

Dried mushrooms are then packaged., sometimes shrink-wrapped into plas ric bags, and usually sold in 3-5 ounce packages. In most cases, the shelf life of dried mushrooms is about a year. If there is any danger of fly larvae or insect infestation, low pressure steam sterilization is recommended.

In the United States, markets for fresh mushrooms have surged over the past 30 years, from a total market value of $68,000,000 in 1969 to $665,000,000 in 1992. Fresh gourmet mushrooms were virtually unavailable in 1980. In 1992, gourmet mushrooms represented $17,000,000 of total fresh mushroom sales, a 22% increase over the same period from the previous year. The average price for Shiitake in 1992 was $4.11 per pound and Oyster mushrooms sold for $3.66 per pound. (Approx:mately four times as many Shiitake are sold in this country than

Figure 382.10-kilogram liags of dried Shiitake displayed for sale in a market in Chir.a-

Oyster mushrooms )In comparison, the average price for Button mushrooms for the same pe riod was an astounding $ .87 per pound. The upward trend in terms of price, production, di versity and markets is expected well into the future.*

Before producmg mushrooms on a commercial level, the cultivator is advised to conduct mini-tnals W;'h a little experimentation, the cultivator can refine 1 ' ; techniques. Each failure and success is useful in determining the proper mushroom strain, substrate formula, temperature tolerance, lighting level, harvesting methods, and marketing strategies. Note

* Data derived from Mushrooms August, 1992 Agricultural Statistics Board National Agricultural Statistics Service, United States Department of Agriculture. Washington D.C. See Resource section in the appendix that yields from mini-culture experiments often exceed average values from commercial scale operations. I strongly encourage cultivators to increase their production levels slowly, and according to their skills in both mushroom technology and business management.

A number of organizations help growers find markets for their mushrooms. Some co-opera tive marketing organizations coordinate production and sales. Co-op marketing becomes a necessity when multiple growers overwhelm local markets. (Refer to the Resource Guide, Appendix IV for a list of some marketing organizations.) The United States Department of Agriculture can sometimes assist growers in contacting marketing outlets.

I am a strong believer in growing mushrooms organically. Once certified organic, local producers can sell mushrooms to natural food co-ops and some up-scale grocery chains for a premium The restaurant trade, from my experience, seems little impressed whether or not the mushrooms are organically grown. In either case, the key to the financial success of a mush room farm centers on its ability to market mushrooms successfully. The person in charge of marketing must foster a close, professional relationship with the buyers.

In Asia, marketing gourmet mushrooms has benefited from a long tradition while in North America gourmet mushrooms are a relatively new phenomenon, having been available for less than twenty years. (See Farr, 1983.) With more growers coming into production, the markets are likely to fluctuate in response to the sudden increase in the availability of mushrooms. Cycles of over- and under-production are typical in any new, expanding marketplace and should be expected. Growers must adapt their production schedules and product lines so they do not become over-extended. As the public becomes increasingly aware of the health stimulating properties of mushrooms, markets should expand enormously. Those growers who are able to survive this early period of market development will become key players in an industry that is destined to become a centerpiece of the new environmental economy.


Versatile, tasteful, and nutritious, gourmet mushrooms enhance any meal. Multi-dimensional in their flavor qualities, mushrooms appeal to both vegetarians and meat-eaters. The following recipes can be used with almost any of the mushrooms described in j this book. The simplest way to prepare gourmet mushrooms is in a j stir-fry at medium high heat with a light oil frequently stirring. Other ingredients (onions, garlic, tofu, nuts, etc.) can be added after the mushrooms have been well cooked.

Here are some of the favorite recipes from notable mushroom dignitaries. I hope you enjoy these recipes as much as I have. For more recipes, please consult the references listed at the end of this chapter. Bon Appetit!!!

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