Mushrooms are found in many different shapes and sizes. Neither plant nor animal, these fungi are generally talked about in terms of the fruiting body and the mycelium. The mycelium, which absorbs nutrients, is typically attached to tree roots and forms a fluffy, thread-like network. The fruiting bodies—the mushrooms we eat—feed off of the mycelium to bloom and produce spores for reproduction.
Some varieties like the white button, oyster, morel, and shiitake offer a natural umami and aroma unique to specific parts of the world, and are undeniably tied to regional cuisines. The truffle, in particular, is a luxury ingredient from central Italy that is as valuable as a precious metal. Outside the fine-dining scene, mushrooms are emerging as key components in meat alternatives and new materials, and the amazing potential of these fungi is expanding every day.