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All about Mushrooms: Animal, Vegetable or Mineral?

Recently we were talking in the office about mushrooms. Mo Mushroom, the Garden Hero (the plush toy pictured right) spurred the conversation. Someone asked, “When did mushrooms become vegetables?” Two schools of thought emerged – one group had always thought of mushrooms as vegetables; the other group didn’t. So before we broke into fisticuffs, the resident librarian did some research. We thought others might be interested too. (Spoiler alert – everyone was right in their own way.)

According to Information Please

Mushrooms are classified in the kingdom Fungi, phylum (division) Basidiomycota.

Information Please had this to say about fungi

Previously classified in the plant kingdom, fungi are nonmotile, like plants, but lack the vascular tissues (phloem and xylem) that form the true roots, stems, and leaves of plants. … In many ways fungi are more closely related to animals than to plants, and they have been thought to share a common protist ancestor with animals.

So that was a surprise to all of us – but it didn’t really convince both sides. “What about a nutritional definition?” someone asked. So we looked up mushroom nutrition and found a website all about mushrooms. They had this to say…

Often grouped with vegetables, mushrooms provide many of the nutritional attributes of produce, as well as attributes more commonly found in meat, beans or grains. Mushrooms are low in calories, fat-free, cholesterol-free and very low in sodium, yet they provide important nutrients, including selenium, potassium, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin D and more.

Hmmm. Again very interesting, but it’s a site about mushrooms – maybe they just have a good PR team. So when in doubt we opted to go to the new USDA MyPlate site to see where they listed mushrooms. We found them listed under other vegetables. But we also noticed that there seems to be an emphasis on *raw* mushrooms.

In the end, we all agreed mushrooms are vegetables – but given the other nutritional value, we recognized that they can fall into other camps too.

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