Mushrooms; scientists reveal potted history of a neglected food source

By Nicolette Smith - 07 Mar 2011 17:10:0 GMT
Mushrooms; scientists reveal potted history of a neglected food source

Ah, the humble mushroom; love them or hate them, they certainly have a distinctive flavour. The results from a recent study conducted by a research team at the University of Oregon's College of Forest Ecosystems and Society has revealed new insights into our love affair with the common morel.

For 129 million years, this arguably tasty and nutritious food source was ignored; apparently the morel was not to the Dinosaur's taste. Finally, the homo sapien came along and the delicious nutritive benefits of the edible mushroom came to be recognised.

Research Team Leader Nancy Weber, herself a lifelong fan of the morel family of mushrooms, explains: "Morels probably became so prized because of their distinctive appearance, which almost anyone can learn to recognize. That means you're not apt to pick a poison mushroom."

Weber's research focused upon the genetic analysis of the morel; "Oddly enough, most animal species aren't particularly attracted to morels," she explains, "A few slugs and other things will eat them. But humans have probably been eating them for about as long as there have been humans." Weber looked at the Morel ancestral lineage, their genetic evolution and how best to protect this natural resource in the event of future conservation issues.

So what did the study find? Well, one thing is for sure; morels have been around for much longer than previously assumed.  In fact, the 'true' morel actually deviated from the mushroom family long ago (129,000,000 years ago to be exact) at the start of the Cretaceous Period.

The Morel family have come an awfully long way since that time; from their humble beginnings as the Dinosaur's least favourite culinary alternative, the Morel has expanded itself into an extended family of 177 species and has populated the territories of the Pacific North West.

The morel, which grows to several inches in height and is grey to yellow-brown in colour with a sponge-like helmet, is relatively common and can be found in warm dry ground (usually after a rainy night) during Springtime. As a result of the research conducted at the University of Oregon, we now know that Morels are one of the oldest, but certainly not the oldest of the 1.5,000,000 species of mushroom.

It has taken 129 million years for the mushroom to be appreciated as a delicacy, but the Morel seems to be very ambitious and has come an awfully long way. Who knows where it will be 129,000,000 years from now?