(Written by Ruchika Goswamy)
Often found on pizza toppings, soups or growing out of tree barks, mushrooms have become an integral part of various culinary dishes not only because of their taste and texture but also for their health benefits. Biotechnologist and entrepreneur Trupti Dhakate says that one can grow these fruiting bodies of fungi at home. In an upcoming workshop in Pune, she will demonstrate how to cultivate two variants of mushrooms — oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus) and milky mushroom (Calocybe indica).
“In comparison to the button mushroom (Agaricus bisporus), the other two have better texture and taste. Moreover, the cultivation of button mushroom is a high investment while oyster mushroom and milky mushroom can be grown at home with minimum equipment,” says Dhakate.
Dhakate, who is a gold medalist in botany from Rashtrasant Tukadoji Maharaj in Nagpur, states that mushroom cultivation is eco-friendly. Most farmers burn agrowaste such as the straw that is produced after harvest, which, however, is one of the most suitable mediums to cultivate mushroom. According to her, one kilogram of the agrowaste can produce a kilo of mushroom in turn making mushroom farming a minimum investment business. “Additionally, we vermicompost the bed filling and use it to nourish our mushrooms instead of chemical fertilizers,” she adds.
Explaining the process of mushroom cultivation, Dhakate says, “Mushrooms belong to the fungi family and have spores or spawns as the reproducing agent that works similar to seeds. We first sterile the straw bed after which we fill it with the spawn and leave it in incubation in a dim lit area for 18 days. After that, we move the mushrooms to a cross-ventilated room where the oxygen helps the mushroom grow.”
The oyster mushroom can be grown between 20° to 28° celsius and has a shelf life of three to four days. “We have four subspecies of oyster mushrooms, the pink oyster mushroom (Pleurotus eous), the grey oyster mushroom (Pleurotus sajor caju), the white oyster mushroom (Pleurotus florida) and the blue oyster mushroom (Pleurotus hypsizygus). Meanwhile, the milky mushroom is the summer mushroom as it requires a higher temperature of 35° celsius for optimum growth. This mushroom can be refrigerated up to 15 days,” she says. Dhakate is also aiming to cultivate the Shiitake and medicinal variant Ganoderma mushrooms in future.
Rich in antioxidants, Vitamin D, calcium, phosphorus, iron, amino acid and folic acid, mushrooms are a suitable supplement for individuals with diabetes and heart issues. “Not many know but a lot of interesting dishes can be made out of mushrooms. It can be powdered, pickled, baked, dried, made into curry or simply sauteed,” says Dhakate.
Interestingly, mushroom cultivation in India has grow popular only in the ’90s, even though many people across the country used to consume varied species of mushrooms. Favourable conditions of subtropical Indian rainforests have only helped in its farming.