PHOTO: Kunming’s Guandu mushroom market
You may know that Yunnan has been called a ‘Kingdom of Biodiversity’, but perhaps you didn’t know that Yunnan is also a ‘Kingdom of Mushrooms’. Research shows that more than 600 species of mushrooms grow in Yunnan, of which 20-30 are species of famous edible mushrooms found across the entire province. Below I list the six edible mushrooms known as the most delicious and most common to Yunnan. The rainy season (also the mushroom season) is coming shortly, I hope you can find at least one or two these mushrooms in the wild!
In Yunnan, Morels generally appear during early April to late May and from August and September after a rain. True morels are highly prized for their edibility and appearance. Morels occur in a variety of habitats, including riverbanks, mountain slopes, pastures, and burnt forests. Linked with the numerous habitats is the fact that morels have no special requirement for soil type. They grow in sand, moist soil with abundant organic matter, and in mud. After more than 100 years of trials, in 1982 the first indoor Morel cultivation was reported, with Morchella esculenta. This was soon followed by other successful cases being published with regards to Morel bionic cultivation. In China, scientests reached a degree of success in artificially cultivating M. conica on timber of Populus bonatii, in Lijiang, Northwest Yunnan.
Usually the locals cook Morels in a hot pot with other mushrooms or chicken or Yunnan ham, in addition to some fresh greens. This definitely makes your mouth water! Also, people love to fry morels with Yunnan ham.
Boletus mushroom is also my one of my favorites, as its flavor is very attractive. The mushrooms are ectomycorrhizal fungi known to form symbiotic relationships with coniferous and deciduous tree species. Boletus edulis and related species are amongst the most highly traded mushroom species worldwide, reaching an annual consumption of up to100 000 tones/year. Not only sought after for its culinary value, B. edulis is also known for its health and medicinal benefits. B. edulis is well suited for many health related issues but it won’t give you funny dreams! During the growing season (June to September), the fruiting bodies can be easily found in broad-leaf or mixed forest environments. Although fruit bodies may appear any time from summer to autumn, their growth is usually triggered by rainfall during warm periods of weather followed by frequent autumn rain with a drop in soil temperature.
Yunnan locals love to fry boletus mushrooms with dry chilly in vegetable oil.
Matsutake mushrooms are soil-borne and perennial mycorrhizal fungi. Favored by the Japanese as a delicacy, matsutake is one of the most expensive mushrooms in the world. Depending upon the quality, the wholesale price in Japan varies from US$ 27–560 per kilogram. On average, the total consumption in Japan is 3000 tons per year, of which one third comes from Yunnan Province, China, and rest from other parts of China and America, Europe, Japan and Korea. Export of matsutake from Yunnan to Japan increased from 20 tons in 1985 to 1420 tons in 2005 with annual proximal value of US$ 44 million. Beware of imposter Matsutakes!
In general, Yunnanese cook matsutake in hot pot together with other mushrooms, chicken, meat and some vegetables. In Japan the mushroom is barbecued and seasoned with mixed spices.
Thelephora ganbajun is a mushroom native to Yunnan Province, China. It grows primarily in association with pine forests, at altitudes between 800 and 2200 meters. Vegetation is associated with the mushroom including mixed broad leaf/conifer forests. This species cannot be commercially cultivated, and hence only wild harvesting takes place. Thelephora ganbajun is a highly prized mushroom delicacy in Yunnan Province, especially in Kunming, where it is eaten mostly for its good taste. The mushroom is an ectomycorrhizal fungus and that is why people have yet to find a way to commercially farm it.
In general, people fry the mushroom in vegetable oil with some dry chilies. You can also make a ganbajun oil, which is a good flavouring oil to make salad, which will give your salad a sweet touch.
Termitomyces eurhizus, formerly named as T. albuminosus, was first recorded in the Compendium of Material Medical 400 years ago in China. T. eurhizus is well known for its taste and high nutritional value, with a high protein, polysaccharide, and amino acid content. To date, no cultivation has been possible due to its mycorrhizal nature. It is located in tropical and subtropical areas of Yunnan and Sichuan provinces. T. eurhizus is a symbiotic fungus, growing in association with termites of the subfamily Macrotermitinae and their nests. Fruiting bodies of T. eurhizus usually occur after rain or in high humility areas, and the fruit body matures rapidly. The habitat of T. eurhizus is very diverse, ranging from low moisture forests in India to the humid and moist subtropic oceanic regions of China. The vegetation and soil type also varies greatly, most likely due to the wide range of habitats suitable for the termites.
People in Yunnan people generally fry the mushroom with the local ham or cook soup.
More than 60 truffle species have been reported worldwide, including 35 in China alone. Most truffles have high economic value. Tuber indicum is one of the more well-known commercial truffles in Yunnan and it has been exported to Japan, United States, Europe and Australia since the 1980’s. These ectomycorrhizal fungi occur in calcareous to non-calcareous soils at around 1,200–3,200 meters. Usually, the fruiting season lasts from August to November.
In Yunnan, people slice truffles and fry it with some garlic and dry chillies. I know in Europe and other western countries, people generally use truffle slice or oil with other vegetables to make salad.
So go out and hit the slopes of Yunnan’s hills and mountains in search of these edible treasures. But if you’ve never hunted for mushrooms before, I suggest inviting an experienced mushroom picker like me along for your hike.