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The Milky mushroom is a very large variety often with multiple stems growing from a single base. The mushroom is pure white from base to cap with a thick meaty stem and a solid disc-like top. The caps resemble those of button mushrooms and can range from dome-shaped to nearly convex with maturity. Beneath the cap are pale gills. Milky mushrooms do not lose their name-sake color, and do not bruise or discolor with age or handling. The milky white mushrooms offer flavors similar to that of button mushrooms with a tender yet pleasantly chewy texture.
Milky mushrooms are available year-round, with wild varieties available in the late spring and summer months.
Milky mushrooms, also known as Swetha mushrooms (pronounced shway-tha), are botanically classified as Calocybe indica. They are the only fungus species that is both native to and cultivated in, the hot humid climate of India. Milky mushrooms were named for their ‘milky’ white color. The name comes from the ancient Hindu language of Sanskrit: the word for white is “Sweth” or “Swetha” meaning “pure”. Milky mushrooms are nutrient-rich, have an excellent shelf life, and are the only mushrooms that can be cultivated in the tropics.
Milky mushrooms are a rich source of protein and vitamins B2 (riboflavin), E and A as well as phosphorus, potassium and selenium. The mushrooms also contain calcium, iron and zinc. Milky mushrooms are rich in ergothioneine, an antioxidant that helps protect the body’s major organs from oxidization and free radicals. Milky mushrooms are also a good source of another antioxidant, vitamin C, and contain more of the vitamin than oyster mushrooms. Studies done on the mushroom also show that it has anti-hyperglycemic benefits, which are helpful for diabetics.
Milky mushrooms have a thick, meaty texture which gives it versatility in its applications. Dice larger Milky mushrooms and sauté for curries, or add to soups and stews. Use smaller mushrooms in egg dishes or pastas. Use Milky mushrooms in place of portobello mushrooms for grilled vegetable sandwiches or use larger caps as “veggie” burgers. Milky mushrooms have a great shelf life, and can be kept at room temperature for up to a week before they require refrigeration. When refrigerated, they will keep for up to five days.
Before the commercial cultivation began of Milky mushrooms, people in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal would collect the mushroom from the wild to sell at local markets. The mushroom was sometimes referred to as Dhuth chatta. There is some evidence of early cultivation of Milky mushrooms in West Bengal in the 1970s, using methods like those for growing oyster mushrooms. It wasn’t until the late 1990s that the mushroom was rediscovered by Dr. Akkanna Subbiah Krishnamoorthy of Tamil Nadu Agricultural University and efforts to commercially cultivate it began.
The stark-white Milky mushrooms were originally found in northeastern India and were only found in the wild before commercial cultivation began in 1998 by the Indian Institute of Horticulture Research. They are the first cultivated and commercially available mushroom from India. This is unique because most mushroom varieties cannot thrive in the extreme heat of the Indian climate. Milky mushrooms only grow in regions where the temperature is between 75 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit (25 to 35°C) and where the humidity is also high. They also require far less water than most other cultivated mushrooms. During the cultivation process, the mushrooms have to go through a “casing” period where the spores and substrate are wrapped in a thick plastic bag. This traps moisture and is essential to their growth. Milky mushrooms are still new to the world of cultivated mushrooms and are primarily cultivated in the southern states in India.