The Pleurotus species, alternately known as abalone or shellfish mushrooms, usually favor hardwoods and less often conifers. One variety, Pleurotus populinus, is only found on one species of tree, the quaking aspen. Young caps are tender and mild while older plates have a firmer texture, but a sweeter flavor. Their color varies from light grey to beige, and even pale pink or yellow, and they are likely to have an off center stem if one appears at all.
This particular species of mushroom is experiencing a rise in popularity in the United States. Part of their newfound appeal can be attributed to the rise in demand for organic and naturally grown foods. In the wild these uniquely shaped fungi grow on dead trees during the fall of the year, however, they can and are cultivated year round. Whether they are farm grown, or naturally harvested, mushrooms are one of the least expensive and easily produced organic crops on the market.
These tasty delicacies also double as a dietary powerhouse. They contain significant amounts of fiber, protein, iron, potassium, and phosphorous as well as many other minerals and nutrients. They are a natural source of statins, which are often taken in the form of medication to lower high cholesterol levels. Along with a healthy diet and exercise regimen they might push down that dreaded LDL number.
As an added plus, they are naturally low in fat, calories, and carbohydrates. Further health benefits come in the presence of polysaccharides, which is a complex form of carbohydrate that has been found to inhibit tumor growth. Polysaccharides also help to build natural defenses against cancer by strengthening the immune system.
While their popularity is just starting to take off in the West, oyster mushrooms have been a staple of the Eastern diet for centuries. They are the third largest cultivated mushroom worldwide, with China leading the way with close to eighty-five percent of the world market. The U. S. might be late to the game, but interest is growing, and with the upswing in the organic food market the future looks bright for Pleurotus.