Everyone knows that brightly coloured fruits and vegetables are good for you – but what about drab-looking mushrooms? Do they offer anything to the diet aside from flavour – and are they safe for baby to eat?
This page looks at the merits of consuming mushrooms – and explains why we recommend never serving them raw.
A mushroom is neither a fruit nor a vegetable – it’s actually an edible fungus!
In some parts of the world – and in Eastern cultures in particular – mushrooms are believed to have significant health benefits, whilst in the western world they have traditionally been viewed as being of little nutritional value.
However, a different story is slowly emerging, as their benefits are being more closely investigated.
Most species of mushroom contain B vitamins, vitamin C, protein, iron, potassium, selenium and other minerals. They are also particularly rich sources of compounds known as beta-glucans, which help support the immune system and protect the body from disease – plus an important antioxidant called ergothioneine.
Perhaps most interesting of all is the fact that mushrooms are the ONLY non-animal source of vitamin D, the ‘sunshine vitamin’ in which so many children are deficient. Mushrooms actually convert sunlight to vitamin D in the same way that we humans do in our skin. What’s more, the vitamin D content of mushrooms is stable, which means that it isn’t significantly reduced by cooking.
Techniques are now being employed to make mushrooms an even BETTER source of vitamin D in future, by boosting their exposure to UV light.
In the western world, white button or crimini mushrooms are the most commonly consumed.
Portabella (or portobello) mushrooms are also a great favourite and their ‘meaty’ texture makes them popular in vegetarian diets. Placed in a sandwich they are often eaten instead of a regular ‘beef’ burger. Portabella mushrooms, however, are not a separate ‘species’… they are actually fully grown crimini mushrooms!
More exotic types of mushrooms, such as shiitake, maitake and oyster, are growing in popularity thanks to their rich flavours and perceived health benefits.
That being said, research suggests that the common button mushrooms are at least comparable to the more exotic varieties in terms of nutritional value and – in some cases – even surpass them!
Serving mushrooms raw, sliced and sprinkled over a salad for example, is often portrayed as a healthy option.
Yet there is evidence suggesting that mushrooms should NOT be eaten raw – either by your baby or by other family members.
Mushrooms are NOT on the list of ‘high risk’ foods in terms of their potential to trigger an allergic reaction.
Although mushroom allergy has not been extensively researched, it is thought to be relatively rare (source: Mushroom Allergy).
Allergic reactions to mushrooms tend to occur within 30 minutes after consumption and include itching, hives, swelling of the lips/tongue/throat, dizziness and upset tummy. Occasionally, an allergy to mushrooms can cause breathing difficulties – sometimes severe.
ALWAYS consult your doctor should you suspect that your child is experiencing an allergic reaction to any food.
Mushrooms are not generally considered to be an ideal first food for baby, though, principally because they are rarely served alone and are better mixed into other dishes.
Given that the risk of allergic reaction is low, you may – with your doctor’s consent – include well cooked mushrooms in your baby food recipes once your little one is already enjoying a variety of the more usual ‘first foods’ – typically, from around 7-8 months of age. Due to their soft texture, they are generally easy for babies to eat when chopped and do not necessarily need pureeing.
Fresh mushrooms should be light in colour, with a plump, firm texture. Mushrooms that are ‘past their best’ tend to be darker in colour and may look withered or feel slimy – these should be avoided.
Wrapped in a damp paper towel, fresh mushrooms will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Mushrooms can be a little awkward to clean, as they soak up water and can get very soggy.
Mushroom connoisseurs will tell you to clean them with a mushroom brush and NO water, although we tend to trim the stems, PEEL them (yes, it can be done and is actually very easy!), then give them a quick rinse before cooking.
If you don’t want to peel them, try wiping them clean with a damp paper towel.
Note: Mushroom stems are edible, but are easy to remove if you don’t want to use them. You can then pop them into a homemade stock/broth for a little extra flavour! The stems of shiitake mushrooms, however, can be very tough and are usually best removed before cooking.
Properly cooked mushrooms make a tasty addition to your baby food recipes.
They add a nice boost of flavour when cooked in pasta sauces and are great roasted alongside other nutritious veggies! Portabellas make a healthy alternative to regular burgers and are a great replacement for meat in many recipes, both in terms of flavour and texture.
They are also delicious in omelets, although we recommend cooking them separately THEN adding them to the eggs. This is to ensure that they are thoroughly cooked, rather than very lightly cooked as the mushrooms in omelets tend to be!