In Ormskirk, Lancashire, John Dorrian grows 9 tonnes of shiitake mushrooms and 6 tonnes of oyster mushrooms each week, in 26 separate rooms. While this might sound like a huge haul of fungi, it’s nothing compared to what Dorrian has planned for his business, Smithy Mushrooms, in the months ahead. “We’ve been growing oyster mushrooms here for more than 25 years but have never had demand like we’re seeing now.”
Sales of little-known, exotic mushrooms have soared as a result of the explosion of the plant-based food revolution, with UK growers seeking new ways to keep up with all-year-round demand that now extends well beyond “veganuary”.
Certainly, today top chefs’ enthusiasm for varieties such as brown oyster cluster, king oyster and shiitake mushrooms as fleshy, savoury alternatives to meat – matched with easy-to-follow recipes – means that amateur cooks are turning to these exotic alternatives.
Dorrian says demand for lesser-known varieties has risen sharply over the last two years, with the business now planning to expand its facilities in order to grow more varieties, including those typically imported from Asia. “Traditionally, when British consumers bought mushrooms it was the white ones or, if they were a bit braver, chestnut mushrooms,” Dorrian says. “But that’s all changing. Exotic mushrooms are incredibly versatile and can be shredded to replicate pulled pork, thinly sliced to make kebab skewers and even sliced to make scallops.”
The interest in plant-based food has had a major impact on sales, Dorrian added, and the business – with major investment from Korea-based car company Hyundai – will shortly apply for planning permission for a new purpose-built farm to allow it to grow more shiitake mushrooms. Another is in the pipeline next year to cultivate king oyster mushrooms that are generally imported from South Korea.