By ABBY LU (Sunday Metro), year 2011
Though the mushroom season is almost over, there are many varieties available all-year round, including locally cultivated ones. Sunday Metro visits a mushroom farm near the Sepang Gold Coast to find out more about the amazing fungus.
MUSHROOMS are known to be a seasonal food that is aplenty during autumn but over here in Malaysia, we are a lucky lot – our mushrooms are available the whole year round. Many mushroom varieties are now being cultivated at local farms, one of which is Ganofarm at Tanjung Sepat, a fishing village near Sepang Gold Coast in the Kuala Langat district of Selangor. Started by biochemistry graduate Cheng Poh Guat and her husband, Ganofarm has been specialising in mushroom cultivation since 1987.
“During that time, Taiwanese companies were coming over to Malaysia and teaching people how to cultivate mushrooms in places such as Genting Highlands,” she explains. “Many jumped on the bandwagon but only a handful survived.”
Cheng attributes this to inadequate understanding of cultivation techniques and also a lack of marketing activities.
“It’s easy to attend a two-day course, but running a farm is very hard,” she adds, noting that there are a lot of things that people need to understand.
“These mushrooms are very ‘siao jie’,” Cheng says as she gently plucks some grey oyster mushrooms at the farm. The Chinese term, which literally means ‘young lady’, denotes something of capricious nature. .
She couldn’t have described it more aptly. The mushrooms cannot survive if it is too hot or too cold and the daily temperature fluctuations cannot exceed 10 degrees Celsius.
In demand: Grey oyster mushrooms are the most popular variety in Malaysia.
“If the difference is bigger than that, the mushrooms will die.” According to her, this is why some mushroom cultivation at places like Cameron Highlands and Genting Highlands failed.
But, isn’t it a fact that mushrooms do better in a cool environment? How is it that the mushrooms thrive in a hot coastal town like Tanjung Sepat?
Ganofarm does not practice controlled-environment cultivation and all its mushrooms are grown within lofty wooden structures covered with black mesh curtains and topped by a zinc roof.
“It pretty much depends on the kind of mushrooms you select,” says Cheng, who adds that they only cultivate lowland mushrooms.
Apart from that, she adds that it is important for cultivators to select a resilient strain. “Ours can adapt even in temperatures up to 32 degrees Celsius.”
Thriving: There are many types of mushrooms grown at Ganofarm in Tanjung Sepat, Selangor.
She concedes however, that during the hotter months when the heat goes up to about 34 degrees Celsius, the yield can drop by as much as 50%.
“There’s nothing I can do to prevent that,” she laughs. Controlling the ambient temperature with cold rooms, she adds, may address the problem but the cost is just not practical. “It costs about three to four times more to set up a cold room, and the killer is the electricity cost!”
Cheng says there are a few companies that are cultivating the temperate varieties such as enoki (long, thin-stemmed mushrooms with tiny button caps) and button mushrooms locally. So, how does one tell if a button mushroom is local? “You can try pressing it, local mushrooms are harder and difficult to break,” says Cheng.
She explains that imported mushrooms are softer because it will take at least a week to reach the supermarket aisles after harvest. “The traveling and re-packing takes time.”
Is there a difference in quality? “Of course,” Cheng stresses. “The local mushrooms are fresher; hence the quality, taste and texture are better.”
At Ganofarm, five types of mushrooms are grown – the ling zhi, known for its medicinal value; grey and white oysters; the “black jelly” and “monkey head”. The last is the newest among the lot and is still not being produced in large scale.
The most popular mushroom, she adds, is the grey oyster. “Most mushroom farms concentrate on this variety alone because it is very saleable and popular with Malaysians,” Cheng shares.
Apart from supplying the major hypermarket and supermarket chains with fresh mushrooms, Ganofarm has also diversified its business and is now producing other mushroom products. At its store located Ganofarm Homestay, one can even buy “white jelly” drinks, oyster mushroom chips, ling zhi capsules and even mushroom essence. The company also offer an overnight stay on their property from RM120.
“It’s very affordable and very popular with Singaporeans,” says Cheng, adding that they are usually fully booked over the weekends.