When I say you should start crawling around in the forest looking for mushrooms to eat, you might, understandably, ask me what I’ve been smoking. But, what sounds like an adventure straight out of Alice in Wonderland is actually one of the hottest new pursuits by top chefs around the world. In recent years, mushroom foraging has transformed into a full-blown culinary craze, providing restaurant goers and home chefs alike with a window into the unique and earthy flavors only offered by this emerging category.
Whether frilled or trumpetlike, fleshy or rigid, earthy or aromatic, there are thousands of different species of mushrooms in North America alone. And to the delight of many culinary-minded individuals, they are hanging, protruding, and billowing from any surface they can get their spores on.
In the foodservice arena, chefs are always on the figurative—and literal—hunt for items that bring never-before-tasted flavors, interesting textures, and combinations of ingredients that may have previously been unfamiliar to a widespread audience. And after what looks to be millions of years in the making, mushroom foraging has finally snowballed with increased demand from consumers for these items at the retail and foodservice level.
Most importantly to our industry, the buy-side has been taking notice. Retailers who take up a foraged mushroom program find a point of differentiation that is rich in storytelling opportunities. A distinct marketing moment created through a foraged mushroom program, is that the varieties are always changing with the seasons, providing a never-ending mix of mushrooms that grow naturally in the wild. Consider them the ancestors of the commercially-cultivated varieties we are most familiar with.
These rarities are obviously very beautiful to look at—just think of the rustic, woodsy, and even fairy-tale-type displays that produce managers could dream up with a little inspiration from our fungi friends. The brain-like folds of a morel, the brilliant yellow-orange of a chanterelle, and the chandelier grace of a Lion’s Mane mushroom all just scratch the surface of the beauty that can be found through this unique produce category.
So, as you look towards planning your seasonal displays and putting your produce department a step apart from the rest, consider the individuality and elegance of a foraged mushroom program, and a new crop of curious consumers may come hunting.