Relatively few people are aware of the health benefits of mushrooms, according to a new national survey by University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researchers.

Only 18.5 percent of survey respondents said they knew the health benefits of mushrooms, according to the online survey of 674 consumers.

“Potentially, increasing knowledge about health benefits would be useful to the mushroom industry,” said Lisa House, a UF/IFAS professor of food and resource economics and an investigator for the study.

Sue Percival, a UF/IFAS professor and chair of the department of food science and human nutrition and principal investigator for the study, published a study last year that documented how shiitake mushrooms can boost immunity.

They’re also low in calories, fat-free, cholesterol-free, low in sodium, and they’re the leading source of the antioxidant selenium in the produce aisle, according to the National Mushroom Council.

The study, to be presented at a national conference next week, revealed many other clues about consumers’ mushroom-buying habits.

For instance, consumers prefer fresh mushrooms over processed ones, but their choice to buy and eat mushrooms may also be a matter of taste, texture, price and nutritive values, said Yuan Jiang, a food and resource economics doctoral student who conducted the survey.

Jiang and her colleagues found about 20 percent of respondents said they had never bought fresh mushrooms, while 32 percent had never purchased processed mushrooms.

Among the non-consumers of mushrooms, 62.7 percent cited taste as one of the most important reasons, while 55.8 percent said they didn’t buy mushrooms because of its texture, and 40 percent said price deterred them.

“They thought the mushrooms were tough and chewy,” said Jiang, who will present the paper at the 2016 Agricultural & Applied Economics Association Annual Meeting in Boston.

For fresh mushroom consumers, the difference-makers were taste, convenience and health benefits.

Those buying processed mushrooms eat them mostly because they’re less expensive and they taste good. The study also showed that income level is related to fresh mushroom consumption.

With 16 percent of world output, the United States is second only to China in global mushroom production, according to the study. In 2014-2015, the United States produced 862 million pounds of fresh mushrooms and 90 million pounds of processed mushrooms. The U.S. exported 105 million pounds of fresh mushrooms and 263 pounds of processed mushrooms that year.

In fact, mushroom consumption has quadrupled in the U.S. since 1965, while consumption of processed – or canned – mushrooms, has steadily declined, the study says.

Brad Buck is a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences science writer.

Full Article: Crestview Bulletin.

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