DNA analysis has revealed that Japan's second-most expensive gourmet mushroom is actually pretty common in Sweden.
The hon-shimeji mushroom costs about five grand a kilo in Japan, and is by all accounts jolly tasty. Until this discovery, it was thought to grow nowhere else.
But, it seems, people had been trampling the things underfoot in Sweden under the impression that they were another related species.
“We were visited by a Japanese mycologist who found a fungus on a pine heath outside Skellefteå which she thought was similar to hon-shimeji,” says Henrik Sundberg, a student at the University of Gothenburg. “Using molecular techniques, we’ve now been able to show that this northern Swedish fungus is identical to the Japanese one.”
Sundberg and the lucky mycologist, Etsuko Harada, decided to investigate. Instead of doing the sensible thing and buying up the pine heath on the quiet, they filled in their official notebooks and everything.
“After getting a positive response from Japanese mycologists, we became more and more convinced that we were on the trail of a Japanese delicacy,” says Sundberg.
“When we found more the following year, we started up a project to examine the fungus using molecular techniques. We were soon able to show that the Swedish and Japanese fungi are, without a doubt, identical.”
Hon-shimeji has been getting rarer and rarer in Japan, probably because of pests attacking host trees and changes in forestry. Wild hon-shimeji is currently sold only by a few specialist dealers and served at the very smartest restaurants.
But if the fabulous fungi are found in Japan and Sweden, says the team, they might grow in forests at similar latitudes everywhere else as well.
Look out for the things from August through to the first frosts.
Unfortunately, we're not particularly well-endowed with pine heaths and flat-rock forests in this neck of the woods, so we're going to have to use our initiative and find something new.
Down to the canal to look for sturgeon, I think. Balham caviar has such a nice ring to it.