S1E8: All Aboard the Chaga Chaga Choo-Choo Train!
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I have seen many polypores on trees in my mushroom hunts. Most of the time, I haven't done much with what I have picked off trees. Sometimes, I would dry them out and put at as a display in a vase. Polypores are mushrooms that grow on trees and reportedly have holisitic health effects including the term adaptogens which help the immune system. There's some studies, but it's not conclusive enough data for the medical field to prescribe to you these mushrooms, nor is it necessary for you to ask for a prescription as these mushrooms are food. As such, food items have gone through fads and trends. We have seen super-food labels on acai berries, blueberries, kale, and pomegranates. We have seen the rise of kombucha. We have begun to hear about chaga and lion's mane among other mushrooms.
Admittedly, the first time I tried lion's mane and other holistically categorized mushrooms was in 2014. Freshly graduated out of college and seeking work. I was expected to start the New Year with work at Ghirardelli Chocolate Company and with some free time in December, I was able to lodge with friends in the Sunset District of San Francisco, CA. I only needed to stay overnight as the next morning was the Mycological Society of San Francisco's Annual Fungal Fair. The two day event would have been too much for my introverted self, so, I had to make the most out of my visit. I was so mind-blown from all that I saw. Within a small space in Golden Gate Park, I saw a sizeable crowd of 80 to 120 people both inside and outside. Booths had displays of books, fresh mushrooms, mushroom tie dye articles of clothing, and souvenirs. Kids could work on making pins or mushroom tree ornaments out of toilet paper rolls and hard stock paper. Seminars were given in a separate hall with mycologists. Information sessions were set up outside to include different ways of cooking mushrooms. Lo and behold, I learned about Seven Fish dish, an Italian dish comprised of 7 pieces of seafood in a stock. In this case, the theme of fungi translates the dish to Seven Mushrooms dish. Among the varieties, sits lion's mane. If you haven't heard or seen of lion's mane, think of an actual lion's mane where the hair of lion is all around the head of the lion. Imagine that, but in clusters instead of all encompassing around a head. Think of the springiness and softness of a mushroom. Think of individual hairs as mushrooms. You can also look up Lion's Mane on Google.
The Seven Mushroom Dish was alluring. Never have I ever tried 7 different types of mushrooms in ONE dish. I've had 3 types in a hot pot, but 7 is a whole new level. This dish was made by none other than the self proclaimed King of Mushrooms, Todd Spanier. His company is also King of Mushrooms and they sell mushrooms wholesale, if I'm not mistaken... Anywho, my first exposure to 7 Mushrooms dish changed me. I started to imagine the possibilities of mushroom dishes. If the Vietnamese have 7 courses of beef, then it would be possible to make 7 courses of mushrooms. The memory of eating the 7 mushrooms dish surged through me three years later in April of 2017. With Lion's Mane in hand, I sous vide it with olive oil, maybe some garlic cloves, and a little bit of salt and pepper. Let me tell you, nothing beats a freshly harvest mushroom from a growing block. The texture of the mushroom and flavor profile was seafood like and juicy. The mushroom dish was a vegetarian option for that night in Tahoe. If you're curious, the main dish of the night was salmon, also sous vide. Since I am one not to waste, I saved up the infused oil and used it as a stock for rice congee of sorts. I cooked the rice in a rice cooker and then continued cooking the finished rice in the oily stock with added water, and more mushrooms. Top it off with corn, in my case freeze dried corn because I had access to some, kim chi that was freshly made by my aunt who wanted to try her hand at making a Korean staple, sesame seeds, and shiitake mushrooms. The depth of flavors was summed up as a caption I read on Tumblr, "Umami you're so fine, you're so fine, you blow my mind. Umami. Yeah, Yeah. Umami."
My run in with polypores, these mushrooms that grow on trees, did not end there. The years between 2014 and 2017 were full of experiences, mostly through foraging. I can tell you my meeting with Paul Stamets and his polypore hat had me buying a polypore hat the following month. For a price of a pretty penny, I had a nice mushroom hat. That's right, inedible polypores can be turned into clothing, more specifically, hats. 2016. 'Twas an interesting year.
Around that same time, I listened to a podcast about Chaga. I've heard about Chaga in late 2015 through mycology circles, but I did not have the opportunity to try it. The market seemed ripe for the Chaga train to start chugging along with people hopping on board with the health claims put on these mushrooms. The history and lore behind Chaga was nicely explained on the Gastropod podcast. I highly recommend it. For a while, I kept hearing about Chaga. Chaga was in tea and coffee or a standalone brew. Finally, 2017, I not only had the opportunity to try it, but I got a chance to take a piece of dried Chaga home. I talked to Four Sigmatic and my analysis is as follows. The flavor of Chaga is earthy and can be bitter if you overcook or boil too long. Think of herbal, medicinal. If you're already used to the tannins in tea or the bitterness in coffee, then adding in Chaga is not too far off. You can tell there's a difference in flavor profile. It's not strictly coffee flavor or black tea flavor. There's a hint of something more like a hint of herbs that adds complexity. Drink black coffee and you will be used to the flavor. It's not overwhelming or overpowering. Using Chaga in that sense is a good way to add mushrooms into your diet. Whether or not you choose to believe in the health effects, there food scientist in me sees the opportunity to use these mushroom powders in applications that were not commonly used prior. Mushroom tea or mushroom coffee is not brought up in daily conversations. Mushroom beverages are an interesting topic to bring up as a conversation starter, a fun "Did you know..." type of input.
Regardless of your opinion on the health impacts on consuming these polypores, the world of fungi has been one of versatility. The biochemistry in how fungi work is still being researched and largely unknown. The applications in using fungi only adds more to how well fungi can adapt to its environment. Polypores are here to stay. I would love for the applications to expand, but one small step at a time and the opportunity will be ripe.
P.S. Chau Time is produced and edited by Brian Chau. Logo design was done by Charis Poon. Music was produced by Jadey Gonzalez. If you liked bits and pieces of this podcast and would like to support Chau Time, please visit my Patreon page. You may follow me on Instragram @this_is_chau_time. Feel free to tweet @ChauTimesfor your thoughts and inputs. Check out the rest of my website http://chau-time.com/ for more information. You may listen to Chau Time every week wherever you get your podcasts.