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Another edible mushroom

September 2, 2011

A small and delicious termite mushroom currently producing many fruit bodies at Dokmai Garden is the ‘Indian termite mushroom’ Termitomyces indicus. It is gregarious on soil, and it is not necessarily clearly visible there is a termite mound underneath. The fruitbody is white, has no ring, no volva, a striated and often splitting cap with a typical darker knob, crowded gills producing pink spores and a stipe that has a short but typical rooting base, normally much longer in other Termitomyces.

The ‘Indian termite mushroom’ is larger (cap 3-4 cm, stipe 3-7 cm) than the ‘miniature termite mushroom’ Termitomyces microcarpus (cap 0.5-2.5 cm, stipe 2-4 cm). I have seen this latter species in Tanzania, but it has been reported from Southeast Asia too. It is possible these two species are two forms of one species.

These two species are tiny representatives of its genus. The largest in Thailand, T. eurrhizus, may have a rootlike stipe stretching up to one meter, and the cap may reach 36 cm in diameter. Is that a big cap? African T. titanicus has a cap reaching one meter in diameter!

So what about this relationship with termites? It is a mutualistic symbiosis. Some termites digest wood with the help of microbes inside their guts. Some termites (subfamily Macrotermitinae) chew the wood, poo it out at home, let the Termitomyces mycelium grow on the wood, and then the termites eat the protein rich mycelium and the now much softer wood. The termite mushrooms are so well adapted to termites they do not grow elsewhere, and their reproductive organs (the mushroom fruitbodies we pick and eat) must sometimes grow very long to be able to get out of the termite mound to disperse the spores. The knob on the cap is the perforatorium which breaks its way through the mound.

How to cook termite mushrooms? Thais and westerners do it differently. I always fry gently with butter and some salt, and either serve au naturel with toast or meat, or I let the mushrooms simmer in cream to make a sauce. Thais boil them and serve them as an ingredient of a soup. The Thai method brings texture but hardly no flavour. The western method is focused on extracting fat soluble flavours. Do you have other recipes? Please share!

Termitomyces indicus collected at Dokmai Garden in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand.

Text and Photo: Eric Danell

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