High value fungi may offer new industry for NZ

Scientists could open up new opportunities for the New Zealand forestry industry following recent research into the cultivation and commercialization of two edible fungi crops: saffron milk cap (Lactarius deliciosus) and Bianchetto truffle (Tuber borchii).

Plant & Food Research’s Alexis Guerin and Hon. Associate Professor Wang Yun have been investigating the high-value delicacies on a farm in Lincoln with successful and tasty results.

Their work was the subject of a media release this week from Plant & Food Research.

“These crops could be the next innovative gourmet export food product for New Zealand” say Dr Guerin.

“Elsewhere in the world they are highly regarded for their potential health benefits and even support a dedicated truffle-tourism industry”.

In New Zealand, truffles retail for around $3,000/Kg, but Guerin is quick to point out that “you don’t need 1Kg to enjoy them, the flavour is powerful and sensational. A few grams per person is enough for some of the best recipes”.

While Périgord black truffles have been grown commercially in Europe since the early 1800s, it was not until the 1970s that their cultivation methods were improved by scientists. Similarly the cultivation of most other edible mycorrhizal mushrooms is still very much in its infancy.

The New Zealand pair’s research into saffron milk cap mushrooms provides another commercial opportunity.

“We harvested 85 kg of saffron milk cap in the 2014 season from January to May. The high yield was in part because of irrigation on some sites and very favorable conditions with warm temperatures and regular rainfall” says Guerin.

Both crops are the fruits of perennial fungi that live in symbiosis with trees. The fungi colonize roots and transform them into mycorrhizae (from Greek, ‘fungus-root’), real root organs resulting from the merger between plant and fungal tissues. The fungus supplies the tree with water and nutrients while the tree provides the fungus with soluble carbohydrates from photosynthesis.

The New Zealand research, published in the international journal Mycorrhiza, also showed a symbiotic relationship between host pines, onset of fruiting, and mushroom yields; potentially improving the value of pine plantations by providing a secondary income and competitive control of the invasive and poisonous Amanita muscaria (fly agaric).

Yet while research to date has yielded promising results Guerin notes that for both crops more research is required to further develop the young edible mycorrhizal mushroom industry in New Zealand, particularly understanding the factors that affect yields and the postharvest storage, packaging, and shelf-life of the gourmet delicacies.

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