Mushrooms Carve Out Big Roles On Menus

Mushroom Council’s Roasted Oyster Mushrooms with Arugula & Walnuts

Restaurants are using mushrooms in more innovative ways across numerous cuisines, experimenting with specialty varieties like Oyster, Shiitake, and Trumpet, while introducing new dishes for already-popular Portabellas.

Originally printed in the July 2021 issue of Produce Business.

All mushroom varieties are performing strongly on the US foodservice market. In fact, mushrooms had their “best year ever” heading into the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Mushroom Council in Lee’s Summit, MO.

Once the pandemic took hold, that momentum shifted to retail, where mushrooms became the most consistently fast-growing item in the produce aisle. As foodservice returns to normal, the mushroom momentum is returning as operators work to satisfy consumer demand.

“Mushrooms are a wonderful ingredient because of how many varieties and types there are around the world,” comments Aaron Bickham, corporate executive chef at the Bartolotta Restaurants in Milwaukee, WI, which serve a minimum of five to six types of mushrooms at any given time.

The various shapes and flavors mean different mushroom varieties lend themselves well to numerous cuisines. Thanks to their unique taste, and ability to absorb other flavors, they can be added to almost any dish. Mushrooms continue to hold huge opportunities for meat replacement and recipe innovation too.

“If operators want to create an Asian dish, they can look to Shiitake, Maitake, Beech, Oyster and more,” explains Steve Solomon, director of foodservice outreach for the Mushroom Council. “If chefs have an American menu, white buttons and Criminis work well, as do Portabellas, especially stuffed as an appetizer or used as the center of a sandwich. Many Mexican concepts look to the Portabella and Crimini, as well as white button mushrooms too.”

Kitchen Door Napa’s Short Ribs and Mushrooms Dish
Photo by Sarah Anne Risk

Any type of mushroom can be used in soups, bowls, pasta, toppers on chicken and sides with steaks, insists the Mushroom Council, while chefs use easy-to-access mushrooms like buttons for stocks, sauces, blending into ground meat and more.

Clearly, mushrooms add value and interest to numerous dishes, and can help to move other menu items on the plate. “That’s why mushrooms historically are the Number One vegetable topping for steaks, chicken, pasta, pizza, and even burgers if you discount vegetable condiments, like tomato, lettuce and onion,” says Soloman.

Chef Bickham continues to learn about how countries and cultures use mushrooms in different ways. “The beauty of mushrooms is that there always seems to be something new and different, and they add so much texture and flavor to dishes and allow for creativity in menu development,” he emphasizes.

Versatility is the key appeal for Todd Humphries, chef and co-founder of Napa, CA-based restaurant Kitchen Door, which reopens in late 2021. “Mushrooms are so versatile in the kitchen, it’s no wonder more chefs are reaching for them,” he enthuses.

“The idea that mushrooms can be used as a viable alternative for meat isn’t new, however. It’s just gaining traction as more people learn about the rich flavor and dense nutrients that are packed into fungi. The umami-rich flavor enhances any dish that features mushrooms, and another benefit is their uncanny ability to help a dish retain moisture and flavor.”

The growing availability of sliced mushrooms presents a further advantage for chefs looking to reduce preparation time and shrink, although the format generally has a shorter shelf-life.

“There is some ongoing testing using plastic bags during the shipping and storage of sliced mushrooms to improve shelf-life,” reports Kevin Delaney, vice president of sales and marketing at To-Jo Mushrooms in Avondale, PA. “It is a difficult time to consider adding more plastic to packaging, but it does have potential to reduce waste and shrink throughout the supply chain.”

For a number of years, the sliced business has accounted for a much larger percentage of the mushrooms sold by Basciani Foods, also in Avondale, PA. “We have pioneered the use of a patented laser-micro-perforated bag that breathes and wicks away condensation, thereby extending the shelf-life,” claims general manager, Fred Recchiuti.

Chefs are using Basciani’s ‘Sliced Wild Bunch’ as a way to cost-average the different flavors of exotic mushrooms too. “The Wild Bunch is a mix of sliced Portabella, Crimini, Shiitake and Oyster mushrooms,” Recchiuti explains. “Chefs are also creating their own blends to match a particular flavor profile.”

The Next Portabella

At a foodservice level, white sliced mushrooms account for the biggest volume “by far”, claims Recchiuti. “Next would be whole whites, then Portabellas,” he adds.

Although white mushrooms still make up the majority of sales in the restaurant trade, Delaney at To-Jo Mushrooms says his firm still sees strong growth in Baby Bellas and Shiitakes. “We are expecting to see the biggest growth in the Shiitake category over the next 12-18 months,” he predicts.

Lake Park Bistro’s Sole Meuniere
Photo by Bill Milne

All specialty mushrooms are experiencing strong growth, according to the Mushroom Council. “In terms of the next Portabella, we’re seeing Oyster, Trumpet and Crimini carving out big roles on menus,” points out Solomon. “All are among the meatiest in taste; ideal for operators seeking more plant-forward dishes that are natural and from the farm.

“With Oyster and Trumpet, you can create almost any type of center-of-the-plate dish and even create BBQ pulled mushrooms, mushroom scallops, mushroom-based steaks and more. With Criminis, operators are able to use them along with button mushrooms as a point of difference.”

Although Portabella mushrooms remain popular, Sean Steller, director of business development at Phillips Mushroom Farms, located in Kennett Square, PA, agrees that more exotic mushrooms are coming to the forefront.

“Shiitake and Oyster mushrooms have the potential to be the ‘next Portabella’,” forecasts Steller. “Consumers are used to seeing Shiitake and Oyster in foodservice and in specific menu items. With more education and more recipes available incorporating these varieties, consumers are now looking for these items on the shelf.”

Kitchen Door uses many different varieties of mushrooms. Maitake and Oyster are among the favorites. “Shiitake, Porcini, and Candy Cap are a few others that seem to be popping up on menus everywhere,” Chef Humphries notes. “While Portobellos will always offer a delicious and safe approach for chefs wanting to utilize mushrooms, many of the more creative chefs are branching out well beyond the Portobello. There’s a wide world of mushrooms out there, and each one has a distinct flavor and texture. Not only do the different varieties of mushrooms give chefs the chance to get creative in the kitchen, but it also allows the diner to explore new tastes.”

Chef Bickham at the Bartolotta Restaurants finds the King Trumpet mushroom – frequently referred to as the Trumpet Royale – to be “super versatile for cooking” since it can be fried, grilled or added to sauces. “Another benefit is that there is hardly any waste when preparing this mushroom, and it does not have much water weight, so it will not get cooked down as much,” he notes.

Another variety that has become a standard on many restaurant menus is the Porcini. Currently, Bartolotta’s Lake Park Bistro features Porcini mushrooms in an appetizer called Oeuf Mollet Avec Champignons des Bois. This comprises a lightly breaded and fried soft-boiled egg with sautéed mushrooms, black truffle-brown butter vinaigrette, and toasted brioche.

Fastest-Growing Varieties

Specialty mushrooms are registering strong growth across the board, according to recent research provided by the Mushroom Council from Chicago-based Datassential, one of the largest foodservice research firms.

Oyster mushrooms have grown 161% in appetizers, 35% in pasta and 49% in vegetarian entrées over the past four years. Trumpet mushrooms, meanwhile, are up 39% for one year, and 74% on menus for four years.

Crimini mushrooms are up 3% over one year, and up 12% over four years, according to Datassential. Dish-wise, Criminis are up 5% in appetizers during a one-year span, while for breakfast they are up 49% over the past four years. On burgers or in them, Criminis are up 13% over the past four years; and up 10% with chicken dishes, up 101% on sandwiches and up 11% on pizza over four years, where mushrooms are among the top toppings.

Buttons, meanwhile, remain the workhorses; up 14% in breakfast dishes over four years, plus Buttons are doing well on pasta, pizza, salad bars, blended burgers and more, notes Datassential.

Mushroom Council’s Trumpet Mushroom Scallops with Brown Butter & Thyme

“Shiitake, Oyster, and Maitake all hold promise for greater adoption by restaurant chains,” predicts Steller from Phillips Mushroom Farms. “Consumer demand, education around health benefits, and unique flavors create the perfect storm for more mushroom usage. Each mushroom variety is unique and at the same time versatile. King Oyster mushrooms can replicate scallops or BBQ pulled pork. Lion’s Mane can replicate flavors of crab and even lobster.”

Chef Bickham of the Bartolotta Restaurants believes Oyster and Shiitake are some of the newer mushroom varieties that are becoming more popular in restaurants. “Both are very versatile in how they can be prepared, plus guests are becoming much more knowledgeable and comfortable with these types of mushrooms,” he states. “We are often incorporating these mushroom varieties into pasta fillings and ragus for sauces, and they pair nicely with beef.”