Dried mushrooms are nature’s stock cube

Dried mushrooms are among the most powerful  ingredients available to the home cook, IMHO. Dried mushrooms are not simply fresh mushrooms  minus the diluting bulk of their water. No, no, no. Depending on how the mushroom was dried, and  to a lesser extent on the kind of mushroom being dried, there are incredibly powerful flavor  chemicals in here that simply do not exist in the fresh specimens. Flavors are not merely  concentrated by the drying process. Flavors are also created by the drying process — new, super  powerful flavors. I’m going to show you some of that science and also talk about how we can  actually use dried mushrooms and derived products here in the kitchen. Yes, we will be discussing  the whole sandy dirt problem. But most of all, I want to try to persuade you to give these  things a chance, even if you don’t like mushrooms. The intensely meaty flavor that you get out  of this has so many uses in the kitchen. I increasingly find myself using these instead of  stock or stock products. This is nature’s bouillon cube. And if the texture of mushroom skeezes you  out, well, you don’t actually have to eat them. The flavor is in the broth. You can treat the  mushrooms themselves like kombu and just take them out, if you want. I suppose that kombu comparison  is apt in another way: neither mushrooms nor the kelp species from which kombu is made are plants.  Neither of them are plants. Mushrooms are fungi, and brown algae like kelp are generally classified  by scientists these days as protists, not plants. This is a fact that I pedantically mutter to  myself whenever I see people talking about vegan meat replacements that contain a lot  of fungus or algae as being “plant-based,” when in fact neither of those things  are plants. But I don’t want to be the kind of guy who says that kind of thing. Am I that guy? I think I was just that guy. Anyway, compared to plants, the basic composition  of your typical edible mushroom is surprisingly similar to that of animal meat. And people dry  mushrooms for the same reason they dry meat. Mushrooms decompose really fast once harvested.  We can slow that process to a halt by taking out the water. Meat is around 75% water.  Mushrooms are around 90%. This mushroom, I dried at room temperature at home by just  leaving it in front of a fan for a few days. But most dried mushrooms you’ll find at the  store were probably dried with hot air. Temperatures vary, but a common one used in  mushroom drying is 150 Fahrenheit, 65 C. I think it’s fair to call that cooking in addition to  drying, and like cooking, it’ll kill a lot of the microorganisms that are present in here, if you  hold that temperature for a really long time. Also, once you get enough of the water  out, that’s a high enough temperature to cause the Maillard reaction. And Maillard, of  course, is one of the big browning reactions in cooking that makes amazing flavor. It happens  when certain sugars interact with proteins or protein components in relatively dry, hot  conditions. This is a recent literature review by Chinese and Canadian scientists looking at  the chemical composition of dried mushrooms. And here are some of the flavor chemicals that  result from Maillard reaction during drying, which you can also make through cooking, but  there’s other stuff going on during drying, like enzymatic activity. Oh, hey, butyric acid. That’s  the stuff in parmesan cheese and Hershey bars that people think taste like puke. Also happening  during drying is lipid oxidation and degradation. Mushrooms contain unsaturated fatty acids and they  oxidize during drying, resulting in these complex chemical interactions that make very strong  volatile chemicals — “volatile,” in this context, meaning smelly. Unless you’re talking  about something like truffles, most fresh mushrooms have hardly any aroma at all. If you do smell something, it’s probably octenol, or it’s also called mushroom alcohol.  It’s this compound that’s responsible for the earthy smell of fresh mushrooms. The literature  shows that octenol and related chemicals significantly decrease during drying, but the  presence of other aromatic chemicals massively increases. For example, “aldehydes, [other]  alcohols, heterocyclic, sulfur and pyrazine compounds.” An example of heterocyclic compounds  would be furans. Furans have this fruity, meaty smell. To me, drying a mushroom really  gets you the smell of the forest — the kind of forest I’ll be happy to hack through with my new  hatchet from the sponsor of this video, Bespoke Post. I’m not a big shopper, but I am a man of  many interests. I like cooking and drinking. I like being outside. I like sharp things. So I  told Bespoke Post about my interests, and now every month they send a box of relevant cool  products at a fraction of the retail price. This is the “Adventure” box: a travel chef’s  knife with a sharpener made for camping. My house knives can go on the “Block,”  this rock-solid magnetic knife block. Ooh, the “Copper,” a kit for making Moscow mules and  such. The hammer is for ice, but instead I could use the spherical ice maker I got in a previous  Bespoke Post box. It’s my favorite thing. Spheres minimize surface area, so the ice melts really  slow in your drink. Science. You can preview the boxes they select based on your interests. Before  it ships, you can decide if you want to keep it, swap it for another box or skip the month entirely  for no charge. Only pay for what you want. To get 20% off your first box, click my link in  the description and enter RAGUSEA20 at checkout. Link is in the description. Use RAGUSEA20  for 20% off. Thank you, Bespoke Post. Anyway, furans in dried mushrooms — they smell  meaty. And speaking of meaty, how about umami, which of course is a taste, not a smell. We  perceive it on our tongue. The umami sensation is mostly triggered by certain free amino acids,  which have broken off from much larger peptide or protein chains that we cannot taste. The big  one associated with umami is glutamic acid. Surprisingly, we see here in the literature  that drying actually reduces the content of free amino acids in mushrooms. Same deal with the  nucleotides that are also associated with umami. The specifics depend on the drying method. Hot air  drying might be the most popular, but there are other drying methods, like microwave drying, which  you can kind of do yourself at home. You gotta take the power all the way down, and even then  that still came out smelling kind of burned. A fancy new method is vacuum microwave drying.  That actually increases the free amino acid content. But yeah, the conventional methods  destroy some of the free aminos and nucleotides. They get transformed via Maillard and this thing  called Strecker degradation into other things like some of those aromatic chemicals we talked  about. But there are still a lot of those umami chemicals left in here, and they are incredibly  concentrated, because dried mushrooms have like 10% of the mass of the fresh ones. Also, I  wonder if the free aminos and nucleotides and such are more available for us to actually taste  in dried mushrooms instead of being locked up in fibrous cell walls or something. I don’t see that  possibility addressed in that literature review. But regardless, a tiny package of dried mushrooms  like this has all of the umami you need to flavor a sauce or a soup or a stew or something. I recommend going for the cheap ones. This box of dried morels was $15. Morels are beautiful, but  like truffles, they are relatively rare in the wild and incredibly difficult to farm. The science  shows the flavor of dried mushrooms is chiefly determined by the drying method, not the species  or variety. And I think the textural differences are almost completely wiped out by drying. So I  say just get cheap ones, like these oysters or these porcini. Now, everybody prepare yourselves.  I’ve got some tough news I’ve got to break. I regret to inform you that food comes from the  ground. As a result, basically all food is going to have some dirt and bugs on it, but especially  mushrooms, which grow really close to the ground and which rot really easily, so producers might  not want to wash them off during processing. A little soft dirt is no problem at all. That bit there is probably just pasteurized compost that this cremini mushroom was farmed in.  I don’t care if I eat a little bit of that. But sandy dirt can be a problem, and you’ll especially  find bits of sand on wild-harvested mushrooms, like these porcini. Porcini are abundantly foraged  in the wild. That gritty dirt is not easily brushed off, I think because during drying the  structure of the mushroom kind of constricts and grabs hold of the sand. The first thing you have  to do is rehydrate the mushrooms in hot water, stir them around a little bit, let them swell back  up and soften. It takes about a half hour, during which time most of the sand is going to just  fall down to the bottom. Very small rocks are not buoyant, unlike witches. And you could simply fish  the mushrooms out, pour the resulting broth — or “mushroom tea,” it’s called — pour that out into  your food, but leave a little bit behind. You can see right there in the bottom, that’s  the sand, and we’ve effectively removed it. If you want to be really thorough about it, you can  send the broth through a coffee filter. Absolutely no sand is going to make it through that. In my  experience, most of the soluble flavor in dried mushrooms comes out during that first steep. So  we’ve got it. It’s out. Then you can go over and wash any remaining sand off of the mushrooms  themselves without losing too much flavor to the water. And then you can add those mushrooms to  the pan if you plan to use them. Check this out. I reduced the broth down to a glaze to coat them,  a little salt, monter au beurre, and put that on your burger. All that said, I just throw dried  mushrooms straight into my food all the time. If they’re going to get plenty of time in the hot  liquid, they should soften up just fine, and the sand doesn’t really bother me. But if it bothers  you, look for varieties that have less sand. I could find no sand at all on these dried oyster  mushrooms, probably because oysters are generally farmed in blocks of sawdust or some such. I’m not  sure, but based on my experience, I would guess that basically any cultivated mushroom is going to  have little, if any, sand on it. Oyster mushrooms or shiitakes are really good. Those are generally  farmed, and those are particularly good dried. But if you don’t want to worry about sand at all,  well, consider just buying dried mushroom powder. Once they pulverize the mushroom, they can send it  through screens to get out any impurities. A lot of mushroom powders, or granules like these, will  be packaged with salt, which is fine by me. The food needs salt anyway. And some of them  will also be boosted with dried mushroom extract, where they’ve used some kind of chemical process  to get out more of the flavor chemicals and leave behind the chitin fibers and stuff that make up  the bulk of the dried mushrooms. The result is an intensely flavorful broth, which is why such  products are often found in soup mixes — even the ones that are not advertised as being mushroom  flavor. And I take that fact as evidence that, even if not everybody likes mushrooms, most people  like dried mushroom flavor. So give them a shot. They are cheap, delicious, sustainable,  cruelty-free — what more do you want?

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