Out of the 16,000 recognised mushroom species, 7000 show varying levels of edibility. Amongst these around 3000 are primary edible mushrooms with 700 of these having a beneficial therapeutic effect. In addition to their flavour and texture, mushrooms are rich in nutrients and have abundant health benefits.
Mushrooms are an enriched source of minerals, and vitamins such as K, B, D and even vitamin A and C in minor levels. Mushrooms also contain all nine essential amino acids ( EAAs) and have a greater amount of branched-chain amino acids ( BCAA). Both these features make them superior to other plant-based protein sources. Additionally, they also have non-digestible carbohydrates.
Certain mushrooms such as Agaricus blazei, have polysaccharides such as β-glucans that has been shown to have an immunomodulatory effect against infections, tumour, and allergies in animal models. Mushrooms may be mycorrhizal, saprophytic and parasitic in nature. However, for artificial cultivation, saprophytic mushrooms are preferred. They can be easily cultivated on waste material. Such artificially cultivated mushrooms such as Agaricus bisporus, Pleurotus ostreatus, Lentinula edodes and others have tremendous antioxidant properties due to the presence of components such as glutathione, selenium, ergothioneine, and vitamin D.
The antiviral and anti-inflammatory action of mushrooms such as Inonotus obliquus, Lentinula edodes, and Grifola frondosa can minimise the effects of SARS-CoV-2. These mushrooms in addition to others such as Ganoderma lucidum, Schizophyllum commune, Trametes versicolor, Phellinus linteus, Flammulina velutipes, and Cordyceps sinensis also have been reported to show anti-cancerous and immunomodulatory effect.
Their components boost the immune system by activation of immune cells and production of immunity-promoting chemical signals.
Sustainable development goal 2 ( SDG 2) of the United Nations aims to achieve zero hunger. This requires all nations to attain food security and end malnutrition. Global Hunger Index reports that African and Asian countries have the largest number of ill-fed populations.
Mushrooms are cultivated on lignin and cellulosic waste generated from the agriculture and food industries. Therefore they play an important role in bio-transformation of waste which otherwise would pose to be an environmental pollutant. In the coming time when the level of pollution and waste generated is expected to rise, mushroom cultivation presents one of the sustainable solutions.
Mushroom cultivation can provide an additional source of income to farmers apart from their agricultural produce. It adds to local economy by providing income through local and national trade.
The three major forums, with the goal to uplift the mushroom industry globally, are -
(i) The international movement for edible mushrooms,
(ii) The international movement for medicinal mushrooms, and
(iii) The international movement for wild mushrooms.
In developing and underdeveloped nations where poor agricultural practices and lack of cultivable land pose a challenge, therapeutic and nutrient-rich mushrooms offer the perfect solution.
Mushrooms are not only the source of a healthy balanced diet but also hold a promise of food security to meet the goal of zero hunger. Nigeria and Bamenda Highlands are examples where mushrooms provide food security during periods of scarcity.
The coronavirus pandemic has brought the importance of immunity to the forefront. Nutrition plays a significant role in boosting immunity. Mushrooms with their goodness of minerals, proteins, carbohydrates, and antioxidants are a superfood that can reduce the problem of malnutrition, and ill health and strengthen the immune system.
Of 200 mushroom species that are being consumed as a superfood in different parts of the world, there are only 35 that are cultivated commercially and only 10 have reached industrial production status.
Mushrooms can be utilised in a number of ways- as a food source, antioxidant, anti-cancerous agent, immunity booster and for nutrient cycling and biotransformation of waste. Thus the beneficial effects of mushrooms, even as a food source, are still untapped and can be exploited to solve problems of malnutrition, poor health, pollution and agricultural crisis simultaneously.