The russula mushroom is one of the most common species of the genus Lactarius and the order Russulales, which consists of the so-called large milk-caps. It is also known as the red pine mushroom and saffron milkcap, as well as Lactarius deliciosus in scientific terms. Russula mushroom is native to Europe but humans spread it by accident to other parts of the world, where it grows under wild conifers and in plantations of pines. It is one of the oldest mushrooms depicted in art, since it was identified on a fresco in the Roman town of Herculaneum.
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Carl Linnaeus was the first scientist who described the species in 1753 and was given initially the binomial name Agaricus deliciosus. This was consistent with the conventions of the time, since most gilled fungi were included in a single genus Agaricus. In time, most of them have been renamed and placed into other genera. The current scientific name Lactarius deliciosus was chosen by British mycologist Samuel Frederick Gray (1766-1828) in 1821.
Lactarius, the generic name of the species, comes from a Latin word that means "producing milk". These fungi release white latex similar to milk when they are cut or ruptured. However, the amount of milk produced is variable between species and even between individual fruiting bodies of Lactarius deliciosus.
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The second part of the name, deliciosus, shows that Carl Linnaeus highly praised it as food. The russula mushroom remains a very popular edible mushroom that is consumed in many parts of the world.
Mushrooms are a great choice of whole foods that are not processed. Eating them is known to reduce the risk of diabetes, heart disease, obesity and mortality of all possible causes. They are also useful in weight loss diets and they promote a natural skin and hair complexion, while providing an energy boost.
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Whole foods such as green and red peppers, pumpkins, green beans, zucchini, carrots, tomatoes and of course mushrooms are a rich source of antioxidants. These natural compounds are able to neutralize free radicals, which are dangerous chemicals that attack cells and are linked with the onset of cancer and other serious conditions.
Mushrooms supply the rare mineral selenium, which is normally absent from vegetables and fruits. It is a trace element with many roles, in the destruction of some toxins that cause cancer as well as the activity of liver enzymes. It is also able to reduce the expansion of tumours and has natural anti-inflammatory effects.
Russula mushrooms are one of the rare food sources of vitamin D, which is usually synthetized inside the body. Among other critical roles, this vitamin balances the growth cycle of cells, reducing the risk of cancer. The content of vitamin D in fungi is increased if they are left to dry in the sun. Mushrooms also help prevent the mutations that lead to cancer because they are a major source of folate, which is needed for the production and repair of DNA.
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Fungi are rich in fibers that are a natural counter for diabetes. A good intake of fibers was found to reduce the level of blood glucose in people with type 1 diabetes, while type 2 patients have better levels of lipids, sugar and insulin in the blood stream.
Fibers are mainly required for a healthy digestion but provide other benefits as well. They can reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome and heart conditions for example. Around 3 grams of fiber are supplied by a single cup of stir-fried shiitake or one of grilled portabella mushrooms.
Mushrooms are recommended for a healthy heart because they provide a good mix of potassium, fibers and vitamin C. The body's blood pressure is regulated by a combination of sodium and potassium. A proper amount of these minerals can greatly reduce the risk of cardiovascular problems by decreasing high blood pressure, which can have dangerous consequences.
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Studies have revealed that a dose of around 3 grams of beta-glucans per day reduces by 5 percent the level of cholesterol in the blood. These compounds are found in unusually high amounts in the stems of shiitake mushrooms.
The production of killer T-cells in the body is boosted by an intake of selenium, improving the immune reaction. The natural defences of the body are also stimulated by the fibers of beta-glucan from cell walls of russula mushrooms, preventing the formation of tumours and their expansion.
Dietary fibers increase in size as they travel through the digestive system, so they are very valuable in weight loss diets. The cell walls of mushrooms consist of chitins and beta-glucans, which are both dietary fibers. Since they bulk up inside the stomach, they limit appetite and make you feel full. This reduces the snacks between meals and the total intake of calories. At the same time, russula mushrooms are very effective as anti-fungals and antiseptics.
Russula mushroom is harvested heavily in Spain and Portugal, especially in the northern area of Catalonia. As a result, it is a key ingredient in the cuisine of Catalonia. The most popular recipe is quite simple: the russula mushrooms are washed and then the entire caps are fried in olive oil with garlic. Pure olive oil and parsley are served with it on the plate. Butter is never used to cook this species in the Iberian Peninsula.
The russula mushroom is also popular in other parts of the world. It is celebrated in the cuisine of Provence, just north of Catalonia. Mushrooms are collected in large quantities in Poland, where they are marinated or prepared with cream and butter. Russians consume them fresh or preserve them with salt for later use.
The ethnic tribes of Meghalaya in India eat this fungus, which is one of the most popular in their diet. Many recipes exist in Cyprus; they can be marinated with lemons, bitter oranges and olive oil, fried with red wine and onions or simply fried in raw form on charcoal.
A classic recipe for cooking russula mushrooms cuts them in thin slices and grills them with onions, as a side dish to steaks. This method will make the flesh remain a bit fibrous, with a mild bitter taste. In order to remove these traits, it can be cooked slowly. Young caps can easily be identified due to the inrolled margins and are said to have the best taste. Russula mushrooms can change the color of urine when consumed in great quantities, making it appear red or orange.
Lactarius deliciosus enjoys acidic soils and lives in a mycorrhizal relationship with the conifers under which the fruiting bodies can be found. It is common in the entire Mediterranean basin, in countries like Spain, Greece, Italy, Cyprus, France, Portugal or Bulgaria. They are native to the forests of Mediterranean pines of the southern Pyrenees. In Turkey, Lactarius deliciosus and L. deterrimus are sold in markets on the south coast of the Antalya Province as well as the İzmir Province in the southwest. The forests of Pinus nigra and Pinus brutia of the mountains of Cyprus host a large numbers of russula mushrooms, which are collected by the locals and considered to be an important local delicacy.
The species has been introduced in Pinus radiata plantations in other parts of the world, for example Australia, New Zealand and Chile. It grows as large as a dinner plate in Australia, where it is very popular among the Polish community, in the Oberon area in New South Wales or the town of Macedon of the state of Victoria. The rainy period around Easter is the best time to harvest it in the states of Victoria and New South Wales and many Australians with Eastern European origins, such as Ukrainians or Poles, travel to the area especially to gather them.
The vast Siberian pine forests are ideal for mushrooms, so Lactarius deliciosus is very popular in Russian cuisine. The season starts later than in Western Europe and lasts from August until September. They are fried and consumed fresh or can be preserved by salting or pickling.