Consumers are pushing demand for alternative mushrooms to new highs as plant-based diets become increasingly popular and people seek nutritious meat substitutes.
Victorian mushroom farmer Jason Crosbie’s commercial mushroom growing business began with an interest in nature.
He now harvests about 40 kilogram of shiitake, king brown, oyster mushrooms and lion’s mane a week, at his farm in Scotchmans Lead in Central Victoria.
“I noticed the gap in the market and there aren’t that many growers of alternative mushroom species around,” Mr Crosbie said.
“Demand is growing, people are more conscious of what they are eating and where they source it from.”
He explained king oyster mushrooms and lion’s mane were a popular meat substitute among vegetarians and vegans.
Health benefits of mushrooms
Besides its use for a meat substitute the chairman of the Australian Mushroom Growers Association, Tim Adlington, said consumers turned to alternative mushroom varieties for their health benefits.
Lion’s mane mushrooms are globe-shaped fungi with long, shaggy spines that can be eaten or taken in a form of supplements.
Researchers have been investigating the medicinal purposes of lion’s mane and found, through a study published in the International Journal of Molecular Science in 2016, that the mushroom could have neuroprotective properties.
Mr Adlington said many of the alternative mushrooms were consumed mainly for their health benefits in China and across Asia but social media lead to an increase their popularity across Australia.
Mr Crosbie noted the mushroom was used in various trials to prevent neurodegenerative diseases.
Challenges growers face
Despite the rising demand for alternative mushrooms Zac Burd, wholesaler and director of Umami Umami Ltd Pty in Melbourne, believed there were various barriers for the end consumer to access these varieties of mushrooms.
He said most of the alternative mushrooms are taken up by farmers markets, cafes and restaurants.
Retailers are selling lion’s mane mushrooms for $85 a kilogram.
Mr Burd said a further challenge was many alternative mushroom farmers were small-scale growers and had limited capacity to grow on commercial levels.
However, he was confident the industry had great potential to develop further in Australia.
Mr Crosbie has been harvesting twice a week and growing mushrooms all year around in a controlled environment but said it was a daily task and very labour-intensive.
“It’s a lot of work,” he said.
“I also got cameras installed so I can monitor them remotely from my phone if I am not at home and I have certain systems in place that will alert me if certain parameters go out.”
Mr Crosbie has been self-taught and growing mushrooms was trial and error when starting out.
“The main thing with mushroom cultivation is contamination. They are very prone to contamination from other mould or other fungi and the spores that are in the air outside,” he said.
However, Mr Crosbie said he tackled these initial hurdles and has been planning to expand his operation.