Mystical, magical and biologically addictive—mushrooms are in demand. The popularity of wild, foraged, and in some cases medicinal mushrooms is on the rise.
Online searches for seasonal wild mushrooms have increased drastically over the last three years, according to data from Hitwise. Searches for maitake, chanterelles, lion’s mane, oyster, and shiitake have all increased by more than 100 percent in the past three years. Meanwhile, searches for the more traditional seasonal morels have decreased by 18 percent.
At Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tennessee, visitors can not only enjoy specially prepared seasonal mushrooms, they can forage for them as well. Blackberry Farm is home to nearly 5,000 acres of land. Jeff Ross, farmstead educator and artisan chef, says there’s no shortage of places to find mushrooms—oyster mushrooms in the poplar forest, lion’s mane hiding at the foot of trees.
Preparing a menu around an unpredictable treasure hunt might seem difficult but Ross says it’s not unlike working with any other seasonal crop.
“The beauty of our restaurant is that we leave gaps in the menu, and I think most restaurants do. If we have a recipe, it’s not set in stone,” he says. “If it calls for a specific type of eggplant, you can substitute in other things. Mushrooms are no different.”
And what happens if Ross and a group of foraging guests come upon a glut of mushrooms? Blackberry Farm will dehydrate or pickle them to enjoy out of season.
While mushroom popularity seems to be curiously booming, Ross is not so surprised. He says it’s only human nature.
“Biologically, we crave mushrooms,” he says. “It’s the same way we crave steak. When we smell it, we want it. We crave certain flavors because they contain glutamates, and mushrooms contain glutamates, which work as neurotransmitters to let your body know ‘I want those, I need those.’”
For Ross, it’s the unique flavor of lion’s mane that gets him craving.
“As far as flavor goes, lion’s mane is my favorite,” he says. “It just tastes like seafood. When you’re hundreds of miles from any body of water, it tastes just like crab meat.”