Mushrooms touted for umami flavoring and health benefitsMushrooms are steadily gaining attention as more than just a pizza topping, with new products and scientific research hailing the humble fungi as a nutrient powerhouse and secret culinary weapon.

At Food Ingredients Europe in Paris this week, mushroom-based products like concentrates and health supplements are set to capture the spotlight for the fungi’s ability to mimic the savory flavours of umami — meatlessly — and serve as an alternative to monosodium glutamate or MSG.

Dutch company Scelta’s Mushroom World, for instance, is showcasing a range of products that tap into the culinary and health benefits of mushrooms.

Using a process it calls ‘Waste2Taste,’ Scelta Mushrooms takes mushroom stems and cooking juice — parts that normally go to waste — and turns them into liquid concentrates and spray-dried powder forms that can be used as a mushroom base or flavor enhancer for soups and sauces.

The flavourings are touted as a natural alternative to MSG that also impart umami flavors, a trend that was highlighted in the International Journal of Food Science & Technology in September. Scientists from the US and China have been working on ways to extract meaty flavour profiles from mushrooms that could pave the way for new all-natural meat-flavoured vegetarian products.

Scelta will also be showcasing what it calls ‘funginal foods’ — a play on the term ‘functional foods.’ The Almond mushroom, for example, contains beta glucans which help boost the immune system, and Ergosterol, a precursor for vitamin D which is important in the absorption of calcium.

Earlier this summer, Dole also launched a Portobello Mushroom Powder that provides 150 percent of daily vitamin D intake with each teaspoon.

Scientists had long been playing with the mushroom’s ability to produce vitamin D with exposure to light much like humans, and leveraged this power to create a product that can be added to soups, stews, sauces, pasta, rice and meats.

In a Euromonitor report published last month, analysts also forecast the growing interest in the mushroom as a health and culinary tool, calling it a “seriously underrated health and wellness ingredient.”

While mushrooms enjoy a healthy amount of respect in Asian countries for their medicinal properties, Western countries have yet to grasp the full potential of the ingredient, the report points out.

Shiitake mushrooms, for instance, have been shown in scientific studies to lower cholesterol, but remain overshadowed by loud and vocal campaigns mounted by olive oil and oats industries, says the report.

Food Ingredients Europe is touted as the world’s largest gathering of ingredient buyers and decision makers. The trade show is expected to attract 23,000 food and beverage professionals from a hundred countries over three days ending December 1 in Paris. — AFP RELAXNEWS