Mushrooms Are Having a Moment. And Not Just the Magic Ones
This farmers market staple is all the rage, and we found the best ones in California.
I remember the first time I happened upon the mushroom trend. I was in my living room, and a visiting friend unwrapped a package of homemade chocolate. When I tried a piece, I noticed an unusual flavor. She revealed that it had mushrooms in it. No, not “magic” mushrooms—she’s not the kind of friend who would drug the unwitting, thankfully—but reishi, which, she claimed, could strengthen the immune system and fight depression.
Since then, mushrooms have seemingly sprung up everywhere, from Murano mushroom lamps and Mushroom throw blankets, to Mushroom People, a one-off magazine that’s dedicated to all things mushroom, and bartenders making mushroom drinks. I chalk mushrooms jumping into the zeitgeist to a few factors: an interest in healthy eating, the purported benefits mushrooms can bestow (and the serious marketing push behind adaptogens, a category of foods that supposedly can help the body deal with stress), Michael Pollan’s 2018 best seller, How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence, and Netflix’s 2019 documentary Fantastic Fungi, both of which cover microdosing to boost mental health and how cancer patients taking mushroom trips can completely change their view of life and death. As a result, mushrooms have become cheerful little messengers of deliverance—and they taste great, too.
But nowhere are mushrooms more enticing than the ones I’ve seen on my Instagram feed from mushroom grower Golden State Papayas. Every post is filled with colorful gourmet mushrooms, including beguiling blue oysters, seashell-pink oysters, and fluffy Lion’s Mane. The duo behind the brand started growing their namesake fruit eight years ago, then branched out into organic, pesticide-free mushrooms in 2019.
“It really took on a life of its own,” says Lauren Monteil, who co-owns Golden State Papayas with Damien Raquinio. “The movie Fantastic Fungi came out around the same time on Netflix, and suddenly everyone was interested in mushrooms.”
Golden State Papayas sells its delicious-looking wares at farmers’ markets across Southern California, including Santa Barbara, Santa Monica, Los Angeles, and Ojai, and the mushroom’s are more than just eye candy. “I remember the day that I saw their mushrooms at the market and I was like ‘Whoa! What are those things?!” says Jason Neroni, the owner and chef at The Rose Venice in Southern California, who has Golden State Papayas mushrooms on the menu. “Their mushrooms are meaty and big and have a rare depth of flavor than what I usually find. They look pretty, they have a great texture to them, and they taste amazing.”
Monteil credits the fact that their small exotic farm is near the beach in Santa Barbara, where the ocean breeze creates a “spectacular microclimate” that results in superior flavor. But, she says, it’s not just the taste that attracts customers. “Our Lion’s Mane is our most popular mushroom right now,” she says, noting people love it not only because it tastes like crab (“we make faux crabcakes out of them,” she says), but because it’s purportedly good for mental health, focus, clarity, and is “nerve regenerating.”
So, why can’t I get mushrooms at my local supermarket that are as good as the ones from Golden State Papayas?
“It’s interesting because we have been hearing from chefs that there’s a shortage of gourmet mushrooms across the country,” Monteil explains. “Growing them is an art—it takes an intricate set of skills to be able to grow mushrooms, especially in a mass-produced way, which is why when you go to your average market you find a lot of white button mushroom varieties.”
Because learning how to grow mushrooms can involve things like creating a wood chip patch in the backyard , ordering mushroom spawn online, and monitoring moisture levels so mushrooms will fruit, Monteil recommends those who want to try growing them at home without much effort should buy a ready-made kit. “They’re ready to fruit,” she says, so you can get mushrooms growing in pretty much any environment—like, say, your kitchen counter.
Meanwhile, for novices lucky enough to find brown oyster mushrooms at their farmers’ market, she suggests making a simple mushroom toast to try the flavor for yourself. “Brown oyster mushrooms have an earthy, umami flavor,” she says. “Just take your mushrooms and sauté them in a hot pan with a little butter, maybe some garlic, and don’t add moisture to it or they’ll get mushy. Cook the mushrooms all the way through and put them on sourdough bread. Mushroom toast is big.”
Sounds delicious, right? Now please excuse me while I run to the farmers market—I need to get some mushrooms stat.