Mushrooms are the fast growing basidiomycetous fungi which produce fleshy fruit bodies. However, in general the word 'mushrooms' denotes fruit bodies of such fungi. The mushrooms may be button- like or fan- like or umbrella shaped. They are rich in proteins, vitamins and minerals. So they are consumed as energy rich food.

These fungi live as saprophytes in dead organic matter in the form of a mat of intertwined hyphae. The hyphae produce white tiny balls of hyphae called buttons. The buttons get opened towards maturity and forms mature fruit bodies, basidiocarps or mushrooms.

There are about 100 species of edible mushrooms all over the world. However, a few following species are being cultivated in large scale.

Agaricus bisporous (white button mushroom).
Lentinus edodes (Shiitake or Japanese mushroom).
Volvariella volvacea (Paddy straw mushroom or Chinese mushroom).
Pleurotus sajor-caju (Dhingri or Indian oyster mushroom).
Pleorotus ostreatus (American oyster mushroom).
Auricularia polytricha (Jew's ear mushroom or woodear).
Flammulina velutipes (winter mushroom).
Pholiota nameko (Nameko mushroom).

Mushrooms are superior to many vegetables and beans in their nutritive value. Fresh mushrooms contain about 88.5% water and 3.2 % protein. But in dried mushrooms water contents is low and protein level is as high as 34-44%. This protein level is superior to that in most vegetables, beans, peas, fruits, fishes, goat's meat and chicken.

Mushroom protein has all essential amino acids in large proportions. The digestibility of mushroom protein is also high (70%).

Mushrooms contain about 4.2%-4.4% carbohydrates. The carbohydrate content is very low when compared to that in beans, peas and vegetables. Crude fiber content is very high. So it can be provided to diabetic patients.

The fat content is less than 0.3 % . It is less than that in fish, meat, egg and milk. The fat is rich in ergesterol which is involved in the biosynthesis of vitamin D in the human body.
Mushrooms contain high proportion of thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and ascorbic acid. They are also rich in minerals such as Ca, P, Fe, Na and K.

Daily intake of 100 g dried mushrooms meets the need of proteins, vitamins and minerals for an adult man.

As the nutritional value is high , FAO has recommended dried mushrooms as a source of protein in human diet. Mushrooms can be constituted for fish , meat and egg which are too expensive in the markets today.

Fresh mushrooms contain least amount of fat so they can be given to patients suffering fron hypolipideamia (high blood lipids) and hypercholesterolemia (high blood cholesterol). They have less carbohydrates so they are believed to be suitable for diabetic patients.
The mushroom Lentinus edodes has antitumour property as well as antiviral property. These properties are due to the presence of lentinans and emitanin-I in the mushrooms. Pleurotus sajor-caju also shows some antitumour activity.

Lentinus edodes reduces high blood pressure , gall stones and numbness of hands and feet.

Mushrooms have the following advantages over conventional protein sources and single cell proteins-
1. Mushrooms can be cultivated in agrowastes, black soils, paper wastes and so on.
2. They can be cultivated in a small space without sophisticated instruments, fermenters and complicated chemicals.
3. Simple guidance is enough for mushroom culture. Farmers can grow mushrooms in their own land without much skill.
4. Mushrooms can be sustained for conventional protein sources such as fish, meat and eggs which are too expensive. They are suitable source of protein for under nutritioned poor people.
5. Mushroom cultivation converts agrowastes into a good quality manure to enrich the fertility of the soil.

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