is mushroom a vegetable

Is Mushroom a Vegetable?

Mushrooms have been a part of our culinary culture since time immemorial. Recorded history shows the usage of mushrooms in food since the very early period of human civilization. But the question of whether mushrooms are vegetables or not remains in popular discourse to this very day.

Mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of fungus which is neither animal nor plant but rather a completely separate kingdom of its own. This is why it seems difficult to conclude that mushrooms are simply vegetables because they seem to sprout from the soil like plants.

In this article, we will dive deep into the mystery of mushrooms to get a better understanding of all of the factors to help readers come to the conclusion whether a mushroom can be considered to be a vegetable or not.

What Is a Mushroom?

In simple terms, a mushroom is the fruiting body of a fungus. A fruiting body is different from a fruit of a plant. Fruits contain seeds inside them but fruiting bodies do not. Instead, they contain spores that get dispersed in the wind or the water to be carried away to germinate.

This fruiting body is only a tiny portion of the entire fungus which can spread on the soil or trees for up to hundreds of meters. Fruiting bodies do not have special tissue like the fruits of plants and they often do not get produced through sexual reproduction but rather sporadic cell replication.

Mushroom also differs from fruits in its physical structure. Fruits contain cellulose, fructose, glucose, carbohydrate, and only a relatively small quantity of protein. Mushrooms on the other hand contain mostly protein and water with close to no carbohydrates.

what is a mushroom

What Are Fungus?

Fungus is a completely separate kingdom among the organisms of this planet. The key characteristics of the organisms that fall into this kingdom are-

  • They are unicellular or multicellular. Multicellular organisms form thin connected structures called hyphae.
  • They cannot produce energy by themselves as they lack chloroplast in their cells.
  • They reproduce asexually through spores.
  • Cell walls contain chitin and digestion and absorption happen outside the cell wall.
what are fungus

Why Aren’t Fungi Plants?

The biggest reason why fungi cannot be considered to be plants, even though they were wrongfully categorized with plants for a long period of time, is that they cannot produce energy by themselves with sunlight.

This is due to the fact that Fungi cells do not contain chloroplast, one of the most important parts of the cell of plants that use energy from the sun and carbon from the air to produce and store energy.

But this is not the only reason why fungi cannot be a plant. Fungi also do not produce cellulose like most plants and instead produce chitin like the outer shells of bugs and shrimps.

Fungus also do not reproduce like regular plants and do not produce seeds. They reproduce asexually through sporadic cell replication and spores. Sometimes fungi do reproduce sexually but it is quite rare.

Why Aren’t Fungi Animals?

Fungi also cannot be considered to be animals because of their ingestion method. Animals, unicellular or multicellular, digest food inside their body. This is a complicated process for larger animals as it happens inside their stomach and simpler for unicellular organisms like amoeba where it happens just inside the cell.

But for fungi, digestion happens outside the cell as it injects the targets with enzymes and neurotoxins to dissolve them outside the cell, and then absorb them through the cell wall.

Genetical research has shown that fungi are indeed genetically more similar to animals than plants. Animals and fungi diverged about 1.5 billion years ago.

Why Mushroom Aren’t Fungi Animals

The Third Kingdom

All of the reasons stated above have made biologists put Fungi in a completely different kingdom from plants and animals. The Fungi kingdom is made up of all of the unicellular yeast, molds, and mushroom-producing fungi. There are approximately 2.2-3.8 million fungi species worldwide of which only about 148,000 have been identified.

Fungi are pretty much everywhere on our planet from the air to the soil to the deep trenches of the ocean. Fungi spores can be found even in space where no living being can survive.

What Part of a Fungus Is a Mushroom?

A mushroom is not an organism of its own but rather a part of fungi. Mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of the fungus. Fungus develops fruiting bodies at the end of its living cycle and this fruiting body in turn produces numerous microscopic spores that spread through the air, water, insects, and other vectors. These spores are similar to seeds as when they reach fertile ground, they germinate and grow fungus there.

what part of a fungus is a mushroom

Is Mushroom a Vegetable?

Now that we have established firmly that fungus does not fall into the category of plants or animals, the question remains whether fungus can be considered a vegetable or not. There are good arguments to be made for both cases and we will discuss them both. But first, we must understand what a vegetable is.

What Is a Vegetable?

Vegetable is defined as a plant or a part of a plant that is edible either raw or through cooking. Vegetables include various parts of a plant such as roots like carrots, fruits like tomatoes, leaves like lettuce, and so on. Some people exclude the parts that contain seeds in their definition of vegetables to have a clear difference between fruits and vegetables.

what is a vegetable

Why Should Mushrooms Be Considered to Be Vegetables?

Mushrooms cannot be considered to be a vegetable by any definition of vegetable because mushrooms are not part of any plant, mushroom is a part of a fungus.

Historically we have understood the place of fungi and mushrooms in the biological sphere very recently but we have been using mushrooms in our cooking for a very long time.

Traditionally we thought everything that grew on the soil to be plant and the edible part of the plant to be vegetable. And because of this conception, we have always categorized mushrooms as vegetables.

This is also the reason why you are more likely to find mushrooms in the vegetable section of the market rather than in the meat section.

why should mushrooms be considered to be vegetables

Why Shouldn’t Mushrooms Be Considered to Be Vegetables?

The biggest reason why mushrooms should not be considered to be vegetables is because they do not come from any plant. Mushrooms come from fungus and fungus is not a plant as we have shown before.

Another reason is the cooking process of mushrooms. Mushrooms cannot be cooked like regular vegetables and have to be cooked like meat instead. Mushrooms are not only full of protein but also taste similar to meat with an umami flavor.

Final Verdict

Even though technically by definition, mushrooms cannot be considered to be vegetables, because of our historical understanding of this cooking ingredient and frequency of usage, mushrooms will always be generally regarded to be a vegetable.

Are All Types of Mushrooms Vegetables?

All different types of mushrooms can differ in shape, size, and taste but they are the same in construction. They are the fruiting bodies of the fungus. We consider all types of mushrooms such as portabella, oyster, button, enoki, and others to be vegetables.

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