( File Photo )

Mushrooms are having a moment. 

For one, the fungus packs a nutritional punch that a growing number of wellness seekers want.

“Mushrooms were always known for what they didn’t have — cholesterol, fat, sodium — and now they’re beginning to be known for what they do have: potassium, niacin, selenium, vitamin B,” said Jim Angelucci, general manager of Phillips Mushroom Farms, Kennett Square, Pa.

Mushroom promoters can tout their health benefits, versatility, meatiness and sustainable characteristics that make the fungi so fabulous — on the heels of the Mushroom Council’s marketing successes and programs.

Digging into digital

The council closed 2018 celebrating a focused, year-long digital and social outreach initiative that challenged consumers to adopt mushroom-meat blended recipes in their kitchens, calling it the Blenditarian Challenge. 

Using the #BlenditarianChallenge hashtag, people posted pictures of what they made for each month’s theme, such as February’s Date Night Done Right and September’s Better Bowls.

About 500,000 social media users engaged online, posting 400 recipe photos and 1,200 #BlenditarianChallenge submissions, according to Mushroom News, an American Mushroom Institute journal that highlighted the council’s marketing work in its December 2018 issue. 
This effort was part of a focus on getting home cooks in on the blended-burger wagon. 
The council also partnered with Buzzfeed to create a video showing home cooks how to make Sonic’s Signature Slinger. The fast-food chain’s blended burger is so popular, it’s returning for a third limited-time release at participating locations. The video was viewed more than 3 million times, according to Mushroom News. 

The council also partnered with influencers and bloggers, who then shared 36 mushroom recipes and 10 Instagram videos, resulting in 131 million social impressions and 56,000 social media engagements — all about mushrooms.

Besides targeting home cooks, the council has been trying to incorporate mushrooms into K-12 school lunches, at university dining programs and in restaurants, both fast-casual and finer dining.

For the past few years and continuing into 2019, trend forecasters have said consumers want functional food, sometimes called foodceuticals, so highlighting the nutritional benefits of mushrooms is important, said Heather Harter, who handles the Mushroom Council’s industry communications. 

Benefits differ depending on the variety, but mushrooms can be excellent sources of vitamins B and D and many minerals, especially selenium, copper, potassium, phosphorous, zinc and manganese. 

Vegetables first

The vegetable-forward movement’s emphasis on a meal’s vegetables, rather than meat, has helped mushroom marketing too. Now people are considering the myriad meat substitutes, even if they’re not vegetarian or vegan. 

Mushroom marketers are smart to capitalize on this trend with catchy names like To-Jo’s Pulled Port, a portabella wordplay on the barbecue pork favorite. 

Mushroom companies are beefing up the refrigerated mushroom section with several such value-added products. Customers can appreciate the extended shelf life too. 

In 2018, Gourmet’s Finest, Avondale, Pa., introduced its Mushroom Crumble product, targeting sales to schools and other large institutions, said David Ranscht, who handles sales.

Monterey Mushrooms, Watsonville, Calif., introduced a new product line called Let’s Blend, which is finely diced mushrooms ready to blend with ground meat. The 8-ounce package comes seasoned in three flavors: Classic, Mexican and Italian.

“People want to eat better without giving up flavor and texture,” said Mike O’Brien, Monterey’s vice president of sales and marketing. “Let’s Blend works well with ground beef, chicken, lamb, pork or turkey. It makes meat juicier without adding fat or cholesterol.”

The effects of the Blended Burger Project by the James Beard Foundation, now in its fifth year incorporating the country’s top chefs and food celebrities, have spiraled throughout the food industry.

Blue Apron added a blended burger meal kit to its offerings over the summer using crimini mushrooms. Princeton University’s dining program introduced the Crafted Burger blending mushrooms with beef, and several other state universities are considering the same, according to the council.

— See how mushrooms are made and what the exotic varieties look like in this slide show.