The Great Debate: Are Mushrooms Vegetables?

Are mushrooms vegetables?

Are Mushrooms Vegetables? The mushroom is not a vegetable but a fungus. Fungi are closer to animals than to plants. The mushroom is a structure in which a group of fungi forms to spread its spores, which will generate new individuals of the species.

Want to jump to a specific part of this article? Just click on any of the topics:

  • Where are the mushrooms?
  • After all, is the mushroom a vegetable?
  • Are all fungi mushrooms?
  • Impact of fungi on the environment
  • for you teacher

Where are the mushrooms?

We see them in gardens, forests, woods, and swamps. They often begin to appear in that humid corner after some time. Or on your plate, in the middle of the salad, in the meat sauce, or almost whole, stuffed with cheese. We also see them being used as homes by the friendly, blue Smurfs.

If we stop to think, we will see that mushrooms are very present in our lives. However, we are used to seeing mushrooms only on our food plates or in media representations, and we end up separating them from nature. However, they are part of diverse organisms found virtually throughout nature.

After all, the mushroom is a vegetable.

The answer to this question is simple: no! The mushroom is not a vegetable, it is a fungus. In other words, it belongs to the Fungi Kingdom, one of the five kingdoms that divide all living beings (the other kingdoms being: Animal, Vegetal, Protista, and Monera).

Fungi are closer to us animals in evolutionary history than they are to plants. It is as if plants were far more distantly related to fungi than we are in the great family of living beings.

Analyzing genetic data of fungi, animals, and plants, verifying several pieces of evidence of this relationship between fungi and animals is possible.

In addition to this genetic information, we can observe some common characteristics of ours and fungi, such as:

The synthesis of keratin, the protein that, in humans, forms nails and hair ;

Heterotrophy is the need to seek nutrients from other living beings, unlike plants, which are autotrophs, and produce their food through the process of photosynthesis;

The main energy reserve is glycogen, while plants use starch.

Are Mushrooms Vegetables?

If all mushrooms are fungi, are all fungi mushrooms?

Not exactly! Not every fungus forms a mushroom. The mushroom is a structure formed by fungi from a group (phylum) called Basidiomycota, whose main characteristic is the presence of a structure called “basidiocarp” – the mushroom!

A Basidiomycota fungus comprises two parts, one below ground and one outside.

The part that is “hidden” is called mycelium, a set of filaments that support the fungus and absorb nutrients. The part visible to us is the mushroom, a structure formed to reproduce some fungi.

Impact of fungi on the environment

Speaking of fungi, did you know that they play a super important ecological role? Several species act in the cycle of decomposition of organic matter. They are helping to “recycle” nutrients and contributing to the functioning of cycles in ecosystems.

To learn more about the decomposition process, read our text: Wikipedia

What do I need to know about decomposition?

In addition to being great “recyclers,” fungi can help us with other environmental issues. Check out some of them below:

The large disposal of plastic waste is one of the biggest environmental problems today. The OECD ( Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development ) pointed out that only 9% of the 353 million tons of plastic waste generated in the world were recycled in 2019.

Since this non-recycled waste ended up being incinerated, deposited in controlled or illegal landfills, or abandoned in nature, resulting in impacts such as pollution (land and water) and the generation of greenhouse gases.

But what do mushrooms (and other fungi) do with plastic?

First, scientists discovered in 2011 that an Amazonian species of fungus could “eat” plastic. The species Pestalotiopsis microspore can produce an enzyme that degrades (digests) some plastic compounds.

The fungus can feed on the plastic by digesting the plastic molecules! This discovery enables environmental applications of bioremediation, decontaminating, and restoring areas polluted by plastic.

Another environmental application made from fungi was bioplastic or “mushroom plastic.” This 100% compostable ( biodegradable ) material was developed by the US company Ecovative Design, aiming to replace plastic with another more sustainable and low-cost material for insulation and packaging.

Bioplastic is made from the mycelium of fungi that grew within specific molds while feeding on agricultural waste (such as seed husks). Therefore, the process produces a more sustainable material and helps recycle agricultural waste.

For You Teacher

To help your teacher plan your class, we give examples of experiments related to fungi and skills that can be developed with your students based on the BNCC (Base Nacional Comum Curricular) by using this text as support material.

To promote knowledge about the biodiversity of organisms, environmental impacts, microbial action, environmental education, and biological processes, we indicate some of the following skills:

Elementary School:

(EF04CI06) “Relate the participation of fungi and bacteria in the decomposition process, recognizing the environmental importance of this process.”

High school:

(EM13CNT203) “Assess and predict the effects of interventions in ecosystems, and their impacts on living beings and the human body, based on life maintenance mechanisms, on the cycles of matter and the transformations and transfers of energy, using representations and simulations on such factors, with or without the use of digital devices and applications”.

(EM13CNT206) “Discuss the importance of preserving and conserving biodiversity, considering qualitative and quantitative parameters, and assessing the effects of human activity and environmental policies to guarantee the planet’s sustainability.”

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