There’s a new buzz word in the nutrition world: Blendability. It is essentially a process in which cooked, chopped mushrooms are added to meats to make meals healthier by lowering calories, sodium and saturated fats without sacrificing taste. Adding mushrooms also provides some important nutrients such as Vitamin D, B vitamins, antioxidants and potassium.
In 2010, as a response to the ever growing obesity crisis in the US, the US Dietary Guidelines for Americans were amended recommending that a shift in food consumption be made to a more plant-based diet. The difficulty in making such a change was that for many people following these guidelines was unrealistic since these new food groups were unfamiliar to them, unappealing and in many cases too expensive. In addition, students in schools across the country were staying away from new, healthy alternatives deeming them bland and unappetizing.
Earlier this year, the US Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry converged in Washington to sample culinary products brought to them from various states with the intent to modify the school nutrition programs. One of the products offered was a “blended” meatball made of half ground beef and half mushrooms which was billed as being healthier, cost effective and appealing to students. It appears as though school districts are adopting this method of cooking whether on site or preordered and that students don’t seem to notice the difference in the familiar offerings. The first school district to adopt blendability was Cincinnati, OH using the process for their lasagnas, tacos, pasta sauces and meatballs.
For the typical household, blendability has its merits as well by stretching recipes using a less expensive but healthier component. Mushrooms are the perfect ingredient for this process due to its flavor-enhancing properties and its compatibility with meats in particular. A recent study published in the September issue of the Journal of Food Science tested the effect of mushrooms on meat based dishes and concluded that “because of their flavor-enhancing umami principles, mushrooms can be used as a healthy substitute for meat and a mitigating agent for sodium reduction in meat-based dishes without loss of overall flavor”. Umami is considered the fifth taste after sweet, sour, bitter and salty giving us a savory, brothy, rich and meaty taste sensation.
Bringing blendability to the dinner table has only upsides: affordability, enhanced taste, lower calories, decreased sodium and healthier diet. To start blending your recipes, simply substitute 50% of the ground meat (beef, pork, turkey, chicken) called for in your recipe with any chopped mushrooms such as crimini, shiitake, or portobello. White mushrooms mix in best with turkey and chicken due to their light color, though any mushrooms will do.
1 lb meat and 1 lb mushrooms
Finely chop mushrooms in a food processor to resemble the texture and consistency of the ground meat used in the recipe. Sauté mushrooms in 1-2 tablespoon of oil over medium heat until brown and liquids have evaporated (@ 7-8 minutes), stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper and put aside. Brown meat in the same pan until cooked through, then add the cooked mushrooms and mix thoroughly. Continue with the rest of the recipe.
Sources: Myrdal Miller, A., Mills, K., Wong, T., Drescher, G., Lee, S.M., Sirimuangmoon, C., Schaefer, S., Langstaff, S., Minor, B. and Guinard, J.-X. (2014), Flavor-Enhancing Properties of Mushrooms in Meat-Based Dishes in Which Sodium Has Been Reduced and Meat Has Been Partially Substituted with Mushrooms. Journal of Food Science, 79: S1795–S1804. doi: 10.1111/1750-3841.12549. American Mushroom Institute. “Mushroom blendability makes meals better”. Mushroom info.com.