The Fungi Revolution: How Mushrooms Found Their Place In British-Indian Cuisine

Mushrooms have been a part of the human diet for centuries, but their popularity has varied across cultures. In India, mushrooms were once shunned by many people due to mycophobia, or the fear of mushrooms. However, in recent years, there has been a growing acceptance of mushrooms in India, and they are now becoming more popular as a food source.

September 15, 2023: The shift in perception is similar to what happened in Britain in the 19th century. At that time, mushrooms were also seen as being associated with death and decay, and many people avoided them. However, over time, mushrooms became more accepted in British cuisine, and they are now a common ingredient in many dishes.

The same trend can be seen in other cultures as well. In the United States, for example, mushrooms were once seen as being exotic and unfamiliar, but they are now widely used in cooking.

In recent years, there has been a growing interest in mushrooms in India, and they are becoming increasingly popular as a food source.

The British introduced mushrooms to India

The first Europeans to bring mushrooms to India were the British. In the 19th century, British cookbooks began to include recipes for mushrooms, and some British families in India began to cultivate mushrooms in their gardens. However, the majority of Indians still avoided mushrooms, believing them to be poisonous.

Robert Riddell promotes mushrooms in India

One of the first people to try to change this perception was Robert Riddell, a British officer who served in India in the mid-19th century. Riddell included several recipes for mushrooms in his cookbook, “Indian Domestic Economy and Receipt Book”, and he argued that mushrooms were a healthy and delicious food.

A fungi aversion in Indian culture

Indians did not cultivate mushrooms due to religious and cultural reasons. Orthodox Hindus abstained from mushrooms, considering them impure. Ancient texts like the “Apastamba Dharmasutra” and the “Manusmriti” prohibited their consumption.

The local variety of mushrooms

While Europeans relied on imported mushrooms, some attempted cultivation in India. George Marshall Woodrow, a British botanist in Poona, encouraged the cultivation of local mushrooms. The Brown Mushroom of Poona, Agaricus woodrowii Massee, was one such variety, but its large-scale cultivation remained elusive.

The slow acceptance of mushrooms in India

Riddell’s efforts were met with some success, and by the early 20th century, a few Indian cookbooks were also including recipes for mushrooms. However, the mycophobia of many Indians remained strong, and mushrooms were still not widely accepted as a portion of food.

The modern resurgence

This began to change in the 1990s after the economic reforms in India led to increased contact with Western cultures. Indians began to see that mushrooms were a popular food in Europe and America, and they started to experiment with them in their own kitchens. They gradually found their place in Indian cuisine, even in dishes like mushroom masala.

The future of mushrooms in India

Today, mushrooms are much more popular in India than they were just a few decades ago. They can be found in most supermarkets, and there are a number of Indian restaurants that serve mushroom dishes. Mushrooms are also being increasingly cultivated in India, and there is a growing industry dedicated to their production.

The story of mushrooms in India is one of slow but steady progress. From being feared and avoided, mushrooms have become a popular and accepted food. Due to changing tastes and cultural exchanges, mushrooms have evolved from pariahs to delicacies. While the Brown Mushroom of Poona may not have achieved widespread cultivation, mushrooms, in general, have become an essential ingredient around the world.

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