Health Check: Health benefits of mushrooms


Down the road from the University of Rhode Island campus and inside a building, a sort of warehouse, is something you might not suspect.

There's a greenhouse where four different types of mushrooms are growing.

"Mushrooms need a very specific environment. You have to change the air about 10 to 20 times an hour to keep the CO2 down in the room. Mushrooms exude CO2, the opposite of what plants do," said Bob DiPietro of the Rhode Island Mushroom Co.

The temperature is kept at between 63 and 64 degrees, and the humidity is about 98 to 99 percent.

"We started in an 8-by-8 room growing about 40 pounds of mushrooms a week. Now we have one greenhouse up now, and in the process of putting up another one, and we're growing over 1,000 pounds a week," said Michael Hallock, of the Rhode Island Mushroom Co.

And they're unusual varieties.

"We have blue oyster mushrooms, golden oyster mushrooms, pioppino, maitake and shiitake," Hallock said.

These mushroom farmers met about two years ago, and a few months later started the Rhode Island Mushroom Co.

"Plants tend to be one side of your brain, mushrooms, the other. It's more science. I'm much more driven to follow my science side," Hallock said.

This system is quite sophisticated, especially when you're growing the more delicate mushrooms.

"We've got a 5-ton HVAC unit out the back, a big humidifier, a computerized control panel that we can control remotely from our phones or our desktops should we need to change the environment," DiPietro said.

Twice a day, DiPietro and Hallock harvest their unusual mushrooms, destined for more than 50 restaurants in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, as well as farmers markets.

And it's not just about selling taste. These fungi pack a healthy punch, being high in protein and antioxidants.

"There are a lot of studies being done, clinical studies at Sloane Kettering and other large medical institutes, and they're finding the different varieties of mushrooms have specific benefits. Some shrink cancerous tumors, some are good for diabetes, some help with blood pressure, weight loss," DiPietro said.

DiPietro and Hallock say best way to consume mushrooms is cooked, sauteed or baked. It brings the nutrients out.