As functional mushrooms grow in popularity, mushroom powder re-enters the culinary spotlight
By Liz Barrett Foster
Chefs have been utilizing mushroom powders since their days in culinary school, but consumers are just getting the memo as “functional mushrooms” such as lion’s mane, reishi and chaga enter the spotlight in the form of retail products promising a bevy of health benefits. On a global scale, the market for functional mushrooms is forecast to have a compound annual growth rate of eight percent between 2019 and 2024, according to market research firm Mordor Intelligence.
Meanwhile, mushrooms of all varieties have always possessed superpowers, with loads of vitamins and even the ability to produce vitamin D when grown or placed in the sun.
Inside the kitchen, chefs use all types of mushrooms in many ways, including whole, sliced, sautéed, fried and powdered; the latter adding a flavorful punch to dishes without requiring any added liquid.
“Mushroom powder is a way to manipulate a mushroom so that you really concentrate its flavor; you’re not adding a liquid, which would dilute flavor,” says Austin Simmons, executive chef at Cureight, a tasting menu restaurant in The Woodlands, Texas. “It’s also a great way to utilize the mushroom stems that a lot of chefs are throwing in the trash.”
The choice of which mushrooms to use for powder often comes down to what’s available locally, according to Simmons. “Porcinis aren’t readily available to us here in Texas, so it doesn’t make sense to turn an expensive mushroom into powder,” he says. “We look for which mushrooms are available and will offer the most flavor.”
DIY vs. Ready-to-Use
The choice between making and purchasing mushroom powder often boils down to time, cost, availability and personal preference. While there are several mushroom powder suppliers, many chefs prefer to make their own powder from dried or fresh mushrooms, noting that three cases of mushrooms usually produce around a pint of mushroom powder.
“I usually prefer to dry mushrooms myself, if possible, since they’re dirty,” says David Santos, chef and founder of Um Segredo Supper Club and Good Stock, both in New York City. “Once they’re clean, you place them in a convection oven on a very low fan until the mushrooms are completely dry. This usually takes a day or two depending on the mushrooms.”
At Million Dollar Cowboy Steakhouse in Jackson Hole, Wy., Executive Chef and Owner Paulie O’Connor prefers to air-dry his mushrooms, saying it can take three to five days. “After air drying, we put them in a low-temp oven for three to five hours and grind them afterward using a coffee grinder for small batches and a blender for large batches.”
On the Menu
Mushrooms are versatile and can work in both savory and sweet applications. At Million Dollar Cowboy Steakhouse, O’Connor uses shiitake mushroom powder in an entrée featuring togarashi-rubbed tuna, cinnamon lentils, grilled fennel, blood oranges, pistachios and dashi broth made with the powder, dashi, sake, onion and garlic.
O’Connor says that he prefers morel, chanterelle and shiitake for his mushroom powders, noting that morels can take on any flavor, while shiitakes stand out more. “We also take the mushroom powder and mix it with panko, flour and togarashi to dust the tuna,” says O’Connor.
Simmons offers a mushroom cappuccino amuse, combining mushroom demi glaze, house-made almond milk froth, shiitake mushroom powder, salt, lemon juice and European butter at Cureight. “I like to use shiitake because it offers the most concentrated earthy, rich, umami flavor,” he says.
Perhaps an unlikely match, mushrooms and chocolate are also said to play well with one another, according to Megan Fitzroy Phelan, pastry chef at Longoven in Richmond, Vir. Phelan says that porcinis and chanterelles are the easiest mushrooms to incorporate into desserts because they have a naturally sweeter flavor than other mushrooms.
For Phelan’s most recent dessert featuring porcinis, she says, “I wanted to portray chocolate and porcini, so I had a flourless chocolate cake that we punched into the shape of a porcini and served it alongside an ice cream, which I made with dried porcinis,” she says. “But, when we put the dessert together, something was missing; that’s when we came up with the idea to add porcini powder to the top of the cake.” To make the powder, Phelan ground dried porcini mushrooms with dried parsley and cocoa powder, seasoning it with sugar and salt.
Santos says he likes using mushroom powder in soups, braises and pasta dough. He serves a veal and pork tortelloni with mushroom brodo at Um Segredo that utilizes mushroom powder in two ways. “Veal chops are braised along with some pork belly to add fatty richness, and the meats are braised in a combination of onions, garlic, carrots, celery, and mushroom powder,” he says. “When the ingredients are tender, the stock is strained and everything is put through a grinder to make a filling. The filling is used to fill large tortelloni that are served in a broth made from the strained braising liquid, aromatics and more dried mushrooms. At service, the broth is placed in a French press with more coarse-ground mushroom powder and allowed to steep like tea. It’s poured over the pasta and raw white mushrooms are shaved on top.”
The power of mushrooms will likely continue to amaze chefs and consumers long into the future. Whether it’s a functional mushroom added to your morning cup of coffee or a pulverized shiitake rubbed onto a ribeye, there’s no escaping the draw of these fantastic fungi.