Food Crawl: A mushroom of one's own

Mushboo home mushroom growing kits prove stylish and strangely intimate

During a visit to Portland, I was struck by the conspicuousness of mushrooms. The people of Portland adore the ‘shroom, both for its taste and its visual properties. The visitor’s eye falls everywhere on felted mushrooms, toy mushrooms, mushroom paintings and photographs of the noble fungus.

Surrounded by such wonders, I started to long for my own source of mushrooms — but how? Luckily, a Vancouver company has developed product that produces them in your own kitchen.
Mushboo is the brainchild of mycology lover Matthew Unger. Simply put, Mushboo is a mushroom growing kit inside of a bamboo log — mush “room” plus  bam “boo”... get it?

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Unger, now 30, grew up on a farm in the prairie and knows how challenging it is to make a living as a farmer. So he worked in finance, long enough to realize he didn’t like it. After a period of time trying to determine his true passion, Unger realized that he was a farm boy after all.

The key to a good farm is sound, productive earth. Unger became interested in the notion of bioremediation: restoring soil by removing toxins. Bioremediation can be done in different ways, with mushrooms and other fungi being particularly useful. As they grow, these plants naturally break down their growing medium.

After much experimentation with various media and species, he created Mushboo. The mushrooms are grown on coffee grounds sourced from 11 local Vancouver coffee shops. As the mushroom grows, it breaks down the coffee waste, allowing it to be recycled quickly.

Initially Unger intended to sell the complete mushroom kit to customers. However, after some soul searching his focus has shifted to being an “open source” company. This means he has opened up his inventory to the public, so people can buy individual pieces and experiment with growing mushrooms in different mediums and containers.

Mushboo looks like an Easter Island statue made of bamboo. Unger tells me that people can get two or three harvests out of one refill, but he’s gotten as many as seven. Unger chose oyster mushrooms, being “easy to grow and hearty.”

My sample Mushboo took about two weeks to grow. I found the entire growing process fascinating. My Mushboo lived on my kitchen counter by the sink. Every morning, I monitored the new growth; slow and tentative at first, then erupting into a mass of beautiful white mushrooms. These were fried up with garlic and butter, and, I’m happy to report, tasted fantastic.

Caring for the mushrooms and having them live in my kitchen was a strangely intimate experience. It’s not just food, it’s a design feature, and a sort of family pet. That you eat.

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