Isle of Wight Flavours – Isle of Wight Mushrooms
So, what is a mushroom? We have all probably heard them categorized as a fungus, but is that a plant? Actually, it’s closer to an animal but mushrooms are in ‘their own kingdom’. How strange is that, an organism which is neither a plant nor animal?
It seems that the mystery doesn’t stop there. There is a lot we still don’t know about mushrooms, there are thought to be over 15,000 varieties in the UK. We know them mostly as a food and the edible mushroom is referred to as the fruit body of a macrofungi. They can also be used in manufacture of car parts and building materials, as a hallucinogenic, for medicine, in packaging and the list goes on. A specific fungus has even been discovered to be able to break down plastics in weeks rather than years which is very exciting for me.
Luckily for those of us still intrigued further, IW mushrooms are here to help us understand and appreciate mushrooms even more.
IW Mushrooms is based in Arreton and was set up in 2019 by Jeff Macdonald and Alex Kent. I have purchased a tray from them before and they are set up in a unit on what looks like a farm off Macketts Lane. I was buying some for my Dad as a birthday gift last year and parked around the back of some buildings. It looked as though some other businesses were operating in the other units but it was by no means a business park. It felt like a community. I asked someone where I could find IW mushrooms and he said I was looking for Jeff – he pointed at a unit to the side and I went through. Sure enough he was there and greeted me warmly. There was a beautiful mushroom crate of mixed varieties waiting for me to collect, the colours were incredible: pinks and yellows, greys, whites. Nothing like the mushrooms you see in the supermarkets, there were really exotic and needless to say my Dad really enjoyed them.
Grey Oyster mushrooms
In starting this article I have been thinking about Island producers I would like to showcase and we have so many that are unique but I feel IW mushrooms are really very special. Jeff and Alex are incredibly passionate about exotic mushrooms not only as better flavoured alternatives to button mushrooms and portobellos but also for their nutritional benefits. They are doing fantastic work unlocking all the additional health benefits and putting these into supplements.
Their ‘tinctures’ are made from Lion’s Mane, Cordyceps Militaris and soon Reishi and Turkey Tail varieties. They are concentrated extracts made using locally produced alcohol and distilled water to draw out the powerful compounds inherent in the mushroom, far more than can be gained by simply cooking and eating. Each mushroom has it’s own additional qualities but these include neurological benefits – helping fight against dementia, relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety and speed up recovery of nervous system injuries, protection against ulcers in the digestive tract, reduction of heart disease and managing diabetes symptoms as well as being immune boosting, blood sugar controlling, antioxidant increasing and even containing cancer fighting properties.
Alex and Jeff also pledge to use only the mushroom fruiting bodies to offer a product stronger in benefits and use natural materials wherever possible to minimize waste and environmental impact. I caught up with Jeff when he dropped off some mushrooms for me and asked him a few questions.
Mushrooms are gaining a profile lately for their choice as an alternative to meat but we know they have many health-giving properties as well. When you do a little research, you begin to realize they have anti-inflammatory properties plus certain varieties have additional specific benefits for your immune system (Reishi). For the brain (Lion’s Mane) and to the way your body processes oxygen (Cordyceps).
What is your favourite way to eat them?
The best way to prepare mushrooms is often to go simple by sautéing them with garlic, butter and parsley and having them on toast. They are a good side dish or also work well as an ingredient in casseroles or mushroom sausages! You can even BBQ them whole! Lion’s Mane Crab Cakes or Scampi are something really unique, special and very tasty.
Why is it important to you that people buy local?
This helps to sustain the local economy and create interest in what the Island has to offer in many ways. Everyone wants a product that is freshly made right here and available on your doorstep.
What is your favourite mushroom variety and why?
Lion’s Mane is our favourite as it is absolutely unique in appearance but has an incredible texture and flavour and is versatile with a flesh that is similar to crab meat. It also has many well-documented benefits for repair and regeneration of the coatings of the neurons in the brain. People take Lion’s Mane as a supplement to fight depression and anxiety, and to ward off Alzheimers.
What would be the most important lesson you have learnt in running your Island business?
It is important to get the word out in every way possible to gain local trade but it is necessary to look in a wider scale to the whole of the UK and globally as your consumer.
What is the thing that you have been most proud of IW mushrooms for?
We have been able to survive and adapt during this Covid pandemic plus innovate and create products that unlock the power inherent in the mushrooms and create a product that people can take daily to improve their health. We are also to be the only exotic mushroom growing business in the UK to 1. be producing Cordyceps militaris and 2. To be producing Tinctures from the fresh produce we grow. This gives provenance and the assurance of quality to customers in the UK that they are getting a top quality, locally produced product. We use only the fruiting bodies (mushrooms not mycelium/substrate) unlike other brands that incorporate the entire growing block into their products which effectively ‘waters down’ the efficacy of the finished version.
What’s next for IW mushrooms?
We are concentrating on the production of Grow Your Own Exotic Mushroom kits so that families can see how mushrooms develop and grow and then they can enjoy a fresh harvest to eat and enjoy themselves. The development of the Concentrated Dual Extract Tinctures continues: Cordyceps militaris and Lion’s Mane are on sale now, Reishi is coming by the end of March, and we are currently growing Turkey Tail with a view to creating a supplement for cancer sufferers to take alongside their existing therapies. Generally mushrooms give few side effects and the contraindications are minimal.
Grow your own Lion’s Mane in four stages of growing from kit to finished mushroom
To download this recipe – download here.