( Photo by The Packer staff )

I don’t like mushrooms, but I keep trying to buddy up with them because they’re so popular. From the New York Times to Fast Company, media is calling mushrooms the new “it” vegetable, blending with beef in burgers, transforming into jerky, flavoring teas and lattes, and filling medicinal supplements and protein powders. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports a record increase in sales value in 2017-18.

Just call me a social climber in this ‘shroom boom.

It’s not the fungi’s flavor that makes me cringe. That umami earthiness is wonderful, especially in hearty winter dishes.

It’s that spongy, slippery texture.

That sliminess makes my tongue wince and push it away, like a toddler shoving her plate forward and away at the dinner table.

I know, I’m definitely not selling this produce category that everyone else is seemingly celebrating. “Mushrooms add a functional boost to new beverages, crunchy snacks, bars and meat blends, extending nutritional support to everyday foods,” according to CCD Helmsman’s 2019 Food Trends That Matter report.

Social psychology says attraction is based on four influences: physical attractiveness, proximity, similarity and reciprocity, according to editors of SparkNote on Social Psychology, 2005, and the “Social Psychology” textbook by David Myers. Why can’t I apply that theory to mushrooms? 

I can’t sense what mushrooms feel about me or agree on the same beliefs and hobbies, so reciprocity and similarity have no influence over me.

That leaves me with proximity and physical attractiveness.

Psychologists say we are more likely to become friends with people who are geographically close. One explanation for this is the mere exposure effect, people’s tendency to like novel stimuli more if they encounter them repeatedly.

I keep rubbing elbows with the fungi in the hope that its fabulousness will get noticed by my palate. Recently, the Mushroom Council led me on a tour of three Pennsylvania mushroom farms — To-Jo, Mother Earth and Phillips — and I see what the fuss is about. These fungi are fun, especially enoki, dragon’s mane and maitake.
Then there’s appearance. If you disguise mushrooms by mincing them like ground meat, my subconscious mind may be willingly seduced. I mean, who doesn’t like a burger? And that’s the gateway to sliced mushrooms, and then whole buttons. It’s a slippery slope.

The texture problem is one reason I’m excited about the blossoming trend of using mushroom cubes and crumbles in burgers, tacos and linguine Bolognese. I also enjoy mushroom jerky and mushroom bacon. Texture problem solved.

Still, I’d like to like this better-than-just-edible fungi in all its forms, especially in the more common preparations. Like an inoculation, I’m periodically testing mushrooms over and over so that I get used to them and build a tolerance.
I’m tracking some progress. Experiments have revealed some of the exotics (like enoki) suit me better than the everyday buttons. Of course, I like the fancy-schmancy type: I’m a social climber, remember?

Amy Sowder is The Packer’s Northeast editor. E-mail her at [email protected].