The beefsteak mushroom is a widespread and reasonably common bracket fungus. Botanists know it as Fistulina Hepatica — ‘hepatica’ meaning ‘liver-like’. The clue is in both the common and the official names — the dark red color and marbled flesh, which oozes red juice, looks amazingly like meat.
We always recommend caution and expert advise when foraging for wild food, but the beefsteak fungus is about as safe as you can get; there’s nothing else quite like it!
They’re found in late summer to autumn, that prime fungus-foraging season when the air is damp but not yet cold. They grow singly or in small groups on trees — usually preferring living oak and sweet chestnut.
Beefsteak mushrooms have long been considered an alternative to meat, even before the health, environmental and ethical benefits of reducing personal and global meat consumption were considered. Their firm mouth-feel, complex flavor — earthy and with the sharpness of green tomatoes — and satisfying bulk makes them a perfect choice for meat eaters and flexitarians looking to find like-for-like alternatives.
They're also perfect for vegetarians and vegans looking for a nutritious and delicious centerepiece for a meal, as well as for gourmets and foodies looking for a new and unusual culinary experience.
Beefsteak fungus is high in essential micro-nutrients such as Potassium and Phosphorus. It is an excellent source of various B vitamins, Vitamin D, and a range of antioxidants– substances known to reduce the risk of certain cancers and inflammatory diseases. It is high in beta-glucans, substances known to lower cholesterol and it is a superfood in the truest sense.
Bottom line? It is full of things that are good for you, and it is happily lacking in things that are bad for you!
By dry weight, the beefsteak mushroom contains approximately 30% protein– that’s a higher percentage of protein than steak. What’s more, it is one of the most complete proteins found in any plant-based food.
The complex and varied blend of essential amino acids makes this a superprotein source. A beefsteak fungus comprises a range of proteins that are easily digested and assimilated by the body. Beefsteak fungi also contain soluble and insoluble dietary fiber, promoting gut health and helping to reduce LDL cholesterol.
As well as the many nutritional benefits of swapping meat for fungi and other plant-based foods, the environmental impact could be phenomenal.
We know that the process of producing meat and dairy products for human consumption has a greater impact on the planet than any other food, and fungi are a great way to increase the amount of low-impact, sustainable, healthy food in your diet. There’s such variety, too; some fungi are good raw, while others are good in risottos, quiches, soups, or just fried up on toast with a bit of garlic.
Fungi are some of the most widespread and easy to grow foods available. They can be foraged (with care), or grown in all kinds of sustainable ways, from small-scale home production to large yet still ethically and environmentally conscious farms. In addition, some edible fungi can thrive in places where no other food sources would grow, increasing the availability of useful land for food production, essential for feeding the growing population and catering to the shifting dynamic of local and global dietary requirements.
One of the barriers to reducing meat consumption lies in the cultural and historical importance of food — particularly meat — in our lives. However, more and more people are becoming aware of the environmental, ethical and health benefits of a vegan, vegetarian, or meat-reducing flexitarian diet. As demand grows, more products are created as meat alternatives. Some are those that mimic the taste and texture of meat, providing an easy switch for those looking to reduce meat consumption without changing their eating habits. Other alternatives don’t mimic meat so closely, but offer a substitute or a whole different way of eating — like the beefsteak fungus!
Some groups and enterprises such as Prime Roots are approaching people’s desire for a tasty, substantial meat alternative by creating delicious, healthy, and environmentally friendly culinary delights using fungi superproteins. There’s no need to compromise on the taste and nutritional benefits of your food. Iif you’re used to cooking with meat there’s no need to learn a whole new style of cooking if you fancy branching out further into the world of plant-based cooking!)
So what do I DO with a beefsteak fungus?
The beefsteak, like so much wild fungus, is best collected when young and tender, as they toughen considerably with age.
The young fruit body can be eaten raw, perhaps thinly sliced in a salad. Fresh, young beefsteak fungus can be cooked whole and served as an impressive-looking slab on a plate, maybe cooked in a little garlic and onions, maybe with a dash of wine. People who are used to cooking actual beefsteaks can treat it in exactly the same way.
Choosing a wine to drink with beefsteak mushrooms is a little tricky. So many mushroom dishes are creamy and traditionally matched with a Chardonnay or white Burgundy. The meaty, denser texture and sharp flavor of a beefsteak flavor, on the other hand, will work better with a peppery Shiraz or a robust Cabernet Sauvignon.
When young, they ooze an almost blood-like thin red juice, and the cooking liquor can be made into a delicious buttery sauce. They’re also delicious when sliced and fried — everything tastes well fried, we know — especially if you have a slightly tougher specimen, which will benefit from marinading and cooking to soften and improve the flavor. The taste can be a little bit sharp. If you’re expecting it to taste like meat you’ll be disappointed, but if you’re looking for a sophisticated, complex new taste, the beefsteak mushroom is a treat, both sour and savory with a rich earthy flavor and a deeply substantial bite. It’s versatile and a rewarding find.
Have you seen any beefsteak fungus in the wild? Have you cooked any? We’d love to see your pictures and try your recipes by hashtag #meatthefuture and #primeroots on Instagram to let us know!
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