For years, the biggest trend in food has been to buy fresh, buy local and buy seasonal. It’s not only health-conscious and eco-friendly consumers, it’s foodies as well. The nutritional value is great, but the taste is what drives many to jump on the farm to table bandwagon.

For those same reasons — taste and nutrition — mushrooms are gaining popularity in the American diet. Mushrooms are rich in vitamin B, potassium, niacin and other nutrients, but they also provide a meatiness without the cholesterol, fat and sodium that usually accompany that rich flavor. And the average consumer is taking notice.

Mushrooms are popping up in all kinds of places you wouldn’t expect. From mushroom coffees and teas to dietary supplements, they’re gaining popularity for their medicinal and nutritional value. (Something other cultures have known for years.)

As more and more Americans move to a plant-based diet, mushrooms are really seeing their moment in the sun. And this is going way beyond the portabella burger you used to find as the vegetarian option on the menu. What was once just a fungus you’d see in a salad or as a pizza topping is now a culinary delicacy worthy of a high price tag. Besides truffles, varieties like porcinis morels and chanterelles can bring in some serious cash. (Morels can be as much as $90 a pound when they’re in season.)

In fact, some mushroom growers are even marketing their products as a meat alternative or a meat additive like Monterey Mushrooms’ Let’s Blend line, designed to mix right in with ground meat. The idea is to lower meat consumption and increase plant-based ingredients even if that doesn’t mean eliminating meat altogether for a vegetarian diet.

But it’s all about availability. Without access to these new, trendy foods, chefs would have no way to innovate their menus with ingredients like shiitake or oyster mushrooms. Luckily, mushrooms are easy to grow if you know what they need. You can find out how growers from different controlled environment agriculture operations are hopping on trend and turning a profit.

Kate Spirgen, Editor | kspirgen@gie.net | 216-393-0277