Knowing where the milky mushroom came from, what benefits could the people get from it, and every other information you should learn from this kind of mushroom. 

by Rolita Spowart

These days, there is increased awareness of health and wellness. It is said that the health benefits that can be derived from mushroom are unequaled even by vegetables. The average Filipino is deprived of this great food source because of its high cost and/or unavailability.

The milky mushroom or Calocybe indica is a species from India, but the Vijandre-Spowart (VS) Group of Companies has developed a strain that is stronger, bigger, and better than the ones being grown in India today.

Delicious, meaty and versatile: Every part of even the biggest mushrooms is tender but meaty. When cooked, it does not become watery like other mushrooms. It can be cooked in a variety of ways or it can also be added to everyday dishes like pancit, lumpia, sisig, or dinuguan. In fact, almost every dish can be made healthier with the addition of this very versatile mushroom.

Nutritional and health benefits: Calocybe indica is not only nutritious, it is also known to have medicinal benefits. It strengthens and regulates the immune system, which makes it a powerful defense against infections. It is also said to help alleviate asthma and other allergies. It is also said to have antibiotic, anti-tumor, and anti-cancer properties, and to help in regulating diabetes, lowering bad cholesterol levels, and to have strong antioxidant properties.

For the grower, milky mushroom is also a good choice because of many reasons.

Warm growing: Unlike other cultivated mushrooms, which are cool-growing, the milky mushroom likes it hot. This Indian mushroom has an ideal temperature range of 23-35°C. This is the year-round temperature of most of the Philippines’ lowland areas. The commonly grown white oyster mushroom has an ideal temperature range of 13-20°C, even cooler than Baguio’s year round temperature range. While it is possible to fruit it in the country, the yield is low, the shelf life is poor, and the nutritional benefits are low.

Long shelf life: Unlike other mushrooms that are extremely perishable, milky mushroom lasts for 7 days at room temperature. In comparison, straw mushrooms will last 8 hours and oyster mushroom will last for maximum of 2 days. With refrigeration, milky mushroom will last for 20 days without significant loss of quality. This gives commercial growers and traders a wide window of time in which to sell their produce.

A robust strain: Milky mushroom is a vigorous strain that grows fast and can be grown on a wide range of substrates, from rice straw, rice hull, grass stalks and leaves, sugarcane bagasse, corn cobs, tea/coffee waste, mung bean and peanut hulls, coconut coir, and even newspaper and cardboard. The company’s substrate of choice is rice hull, though this is not exactly the substrate of choice for most growers—but in Isabela, the delivery cost is about ₱250 per dump truck load.

High yielding: This mushroom also has a high biological efficiency of 100-180%. This means that for every kilo of dried substrate (i.e., straw, paper), a kilo to 1.8 kilos of fresh mushrooms can be harvested.

Attractive: The milky mushroom is the prettiest mushroom in cultivation. It is white and most of the time, it is perfectly shaped. Even the taxonomists agree; “Calocybe” in Latin means “pretty head.” A milky mushroom farm is a good agri-business project because the sight of these lovely, big mushrooms never fails to amaze the beholder.

THE TECHNOLOGY – While mushroom-growing technologies have been taught extensively in the country for decades, production remains low and quality poor. For this reason, VS adopted a different approach.

The laboratory process: Spawn production is essentially the first step in mushroom cultivation. The mushroom mycelium is transferred to a bag of grains like sorghum or corn. The process is simple enough but all the procedures must be done under sterile culture. The colonized grain spawn becomes the “seed” of the mushrooms that is then planted in the substrate.

Making the mushroom bags: The substrate is soaked in fresh water for 8-16 hours to saturate the substrate with water. After soaking, pasteurization should be done to kill competing microbes and other organisms. The substrate is then air-dried for a few hours. When the desired dryness is achieved, spawn is added in layers to the substrate in a bag with about 20 pinholes. The log is then compressed, tied, and incubated at room temperature for 2 weeks.

Fruiting: After 2 weeks, the bag is sliced and a layer of casing composed of either soil, carbonized rice hull, or a combination of both is added on top. After casing, let it sit in a shady place with normal room temperatures and a relative humidity of 80-90%.

Housing the mushroom: Fruiting the mushrooms requires a space that has some light, and an enclosure to maintain humidity. An enclosed tent is adequate for a small area. Garages, old pigpens, warehouses, or greenhouses are adequate for housing the mushrooms.

Harvesting: The mushrooms are harvest-able when the cap is fully expanded but there is still a small in-curl between the edge and the gills. Harvest by holding the stem and twisting lightly.

After the first flush, the mushroom bed will continue to fruit for a couple more months but in decreasing size and quantity.

HOW TO COOK – Clean the base of the mushroom with a knife to take off the casing material attached to the stem. Slice thinly and cook for about 5-10 minutes.

Another method is to steam for 4 hours. A simple steamer can be made with a drum or an old pressure tank fitted with a polypropylene pipe with holes. Wet straw or other materials is  piled on top and covered with tarpaulin or “sako” (sack). Steam is released from the drum, and the temperature inside the substrate is raised to 650°C and maintained for 4-5 hours.

Once pasteurization is over, straw is shifted to spawning room and air-dried for 1 day. Straw is made into nest-like shapes and spawned in 5-6 layers. A minimum of 300 grams of fully colonized grain spawn is optimum to ensure fast colonization. Compress the bag and tie with a rubber band. About 20 pinholes are made to allow air exchange.

Let it incubate under normal room conditions until colonized. This will be about 20-30 days.

Cut the bags in half and case with a 3 centimeter (cm) layer of garden soil, potting mix, or burnt rice hull, preferably mixed with compost. Better results are achieved if the casing material is pasteurized. Casing provides physical support and moisture, and allows gases to escape from the substrate. After casing, let it sit in a shady place with normal room temperatures between 23-35°C and relative humidity of 80-90%. Humidity can be maintained by regulating airflow and spraying the walls and floor about 3 times a day.

It takes about 10 days for mycelium to reach the top of casing layer. About one week after casing, mushroom pins will appear on top of the casing. These mushrooms will mature in about a week. Mushrooms 7-8 cm in diameter are harvested by twisting then cleaned and packed in perforated bags for marketing. Mushrooms should be refrigerated for longer storage.

Milky mushroom can be cooked with a variety of dishes like omelets, pasta, pansit, pizza, tinola, and adobo.

This story appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s March 2017 issue.