First off, did you know that those 3 names are all the exact same kind of mushroom? All 3 of these (the most common mushrooms to be found in any grocery store in the western world), are actually just Agaricus bisporus, the only difference being their age. Buttons are the youngest, and portobellos are the oldest.
I was watching a recent Joe Rogan Experience recently (# with Paul Stamets), and towards the end, Paul mentioned something about portobellos being not that good to eat, the completely refused to explain why, stating that it would put his life at risk. After talking about his visits from black helicopters, and hassles with the patent office and FDA, you know he's already on quite a few folks' radar. I paused the episode at that point, talked to @dbroze about it a bit, then dove into the research, coming up with a few important safety facts for Agaricus bisporus mushrooms.
It's important to note that Agaricus b. is the most widely commercially produced mushroom on the market, with India exporting over 15,000 tonnes per year (mostly to the US)... Needless to say there are some vested interested who may not want anything questionable said about them.
Make sure you cook your mushrooms!
These mushrooms contain agaritine & hydrazine, both of which have been found to be cancer-causing, but are luckily both heat-unstable. As Paul says in the video, you should cook all your mushrooms, but especially these ones. If you are boiling these mushrooms, be sure to toss out the water afterwards, as some of the agaritine will be extracted into it.
Cooking Types & Reduction of Agaritine:
- 20-25% degraded after 5 minutes
- 90% degraded after 2 hours
- ~25% degraded
- 35-70% degraded
Never buy mushrooms from China
Studies have shown mushrooms (as well as rice) from China coming back with levels of arsenic, lead, mercury, and cadmium. Sometimes over the maximum amounts legally allowed, and for me personally and traceable amounts are too much. These mushrooms will often also be treated with sodium sulfite as an "anti-browning agent", which has been known to cause respiratory side effects.
The older mushrooms are better
The concentration of hydrazine in button mushrooms decreases with the age of the mushroom, meaning a portobello will have less in it than a cremini, and a cremini will have less than a button. No matter which you're going for, make sure to cook it. Maybe mention something to the people running that salad bar with raw mushrooms in it?
Only eat organic mushrooms
If you hadn't noticed, mushrooms are quite porous, they're almost like little sponges. While this makes them AMAZING to cook with, just soaking up flavors, it also makes them extremely good at absorbing whatever has been sprayed on them or around them. This means any of those wonderfully toxic Monsatan products they're getting sprayed with, are likely making it right to your dinner plate.
The JRE episode that spurred this
"This mushroom contains compounds that inhibit the enzyme aromatase. Aromatase is associated with tumor growth. Compounds inhibiting aromatase have potential for the treatment of breast cancer(Bankhead, 1999). A diet of mushrooms in mice with implanted tumors showed a decrease in aromatase as mushroom consumption increased. However, Agaricus brunnescens contains hydrazines, carcinogenic compounds that have been thought to dissipate only from prolonged, high temperature heating. More than 80 percent of known hydrazines are carcinogenic. The most notable carcinogenic hydrazine from this mushroom is agaritine, a powerful mutagen, which is activated by the mushroom enzyme tyrosinase, making it heat stable. Enzymes in the digestive system convert agaritine into carcinogenic by-products. The chemical culprits worthy of concern are: 4-(hydroxymethyl)phenylhydrazines and 4(hydroxymethyl)benzene diazonium ions(Walton et al. 1997). Free radicals can also activate Agaricus hydrazines into highly carcinogenic subconstituents (tomasi et al 1987) as well as catalytic processes in the kidneys (Price et al. 1996). Hence, there are several modes of activating agaritine into highly carcinogenic derivatives.
The damaging effects of agaritine's derivatives may be partially suppressed by the mushroom's antioxidants, which, in turn help create host-generated superoxide dismutases (SODs), and the activity of aromatase inhibitors. Walton et al. 1998 asserted, however, that the mutagenic and pre-mutagenic compounds are not affected by quick cooking(10 minutes at 437F/225C) but are only slightly reduced by prolonged heat treatment in boiling water for 4 hours at 212F/100C). A study of blanched, canned mushrooms showed that the agaritine content was reduced tenfold in comparison to fresh mushrooms, from 229mg/kg to 15-18mg/kg(Andersson et al. 1999). However, this reduction may have been due to leaching of the hydrazines into the surrounding water used for blanching in combination with prolonged, high pressure steaming processing used for canning. Another report by Sharman et al. 1990, found most fresh samples of this mushroom had agaritine levels within the range of 80-225mg/kg but with one dried sample having 6,520 mg/kg, a comparatively high level. This result suggests that agaritine production may be a strain specific trait, as this one dried, sliced sample had more than 8 times the agaritine content of other samples in this same study. In contrast, dried Shiitake mushrooms, Lentinula edodes, have either undetectable or extremely low levels of agaritines, in the 0.082 mg/kg range (Stijve et al. 1986; Hashida et al. 1990). Hashida's study reported marked reduction of agaritines from boiling water at 212F(100C) for 10 minutes, a report in direct contradiction of Walton's 1998 study.
A Swiss report estimated that with the average consumption of 4 grams per day of Agaricus bisporus(=Agaricus brunnescens) the lifetime increase in cancer risk would be approximately two cases per hundred thousand lives(Shepard et al. 1995). In a metropolitan area of twenty million residents, approximately the size of Los Angeles, two hundred people would be expected to get cancer in their lifetime from eating Agaricus brunnescens mushrooms, all other factors being equal.
However, other investigations have questioned the cause and effect relationship of agaritine in Button mushrooms and its mutagenic properties(Pilegaard et al. 1997; Matsumoto eet al. 1991; Papaparaskeva et al. 1991; and Pool-Kobel 1990). Benjamin 1995 noted that early studies are controversial and potentially flawed. One study had the intravenous introduction of mushrooms into mice. Another study showed that mice implanted with cancer cells (Sarcoma 180) and then fed dried mushrooms showed inhibited tumor growth(Mori et al. 1986). More recent studies reconfirm that a diet of this mushroom, both raw and baked, induced tumors in mice(Toth et al. 1998)
The cited research is highly controversial and raises concerns about the human consumption of Agaricus brunnescens as a health food. For years, the conventional wisdom was that hydrazines would be destroyed with cooking. Anti-cancer polysaccharides, aromatase-inhibiting compounds, and antioxidants known from Agaricus brunnescens(Kweon 1998), may neutralize the carcinogenic effects of hydrazines, but in my opinion, the jury is still out on this issue. Eating this mushroom raw, especially with free radical inducing foods, is definitely not recommended. And yet, in the United States, up to 80 percent of all Button mushrooms consumed are eaten uncooked. I am disturbed that the most commonly cultivated mushroom in the world has few studies authenticating its beneficial medicinal properties, in stark contrast to the numerous studies on Shiitake, Maitake, Reishi, Yun Zhi, and others. The Portobello mushroom may be gourmet, but in absence of scientific studies, I doubt that, at this time, Agaricus brunnescens can be considered medicinally beneficial.
What to do? The financial future of the Button/Portobello industry may well depend on recognizing the risks, and aggressively developing low agaritine or agaritine-free strains. As analyses have shown more than an eight-fold difference in the concentrations of agaritine in Agaricus brunnescens mushrooms, clearly some strains already in cultivation are much lower in agaritine content than others. Pursuing low agaritine strains should be top research priority within the Agaricus industry, especially within the venue of the spawn producers. Given variations in agaritine levels in existing strains, a breeding program for creating agaritine free strains is a task preeminently achievable in the near future. Certainly the button mushroom industry has clear economic and ethical incentives for doing so."
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