When we think of fungus, we tend to think of negatives: mold in your home, rot on our trees and gardens, and a general sense of good things being spoiled and ruined. However, fungus provides a lot of positives in our lives. We eat mushrooms, we take penicillin when we’re sick, yeast is necessary for our breads, and fungus are even being developed as alternatives to plastic. So, since we’ve already touched on the virtual water impact of common fruits and vegetables, this week we’re going to talk about virtual water and fungus.
What’s virtual water, you ask? We’ve discussed the long answer on previous posts, but the short answer is that virtual water is the “invisible” water that must be used in all products, including irrigation in agricultural use, as well as the water used in processing and transportation.
When you think about commonly used fungus, the first one that springs to mind (for me, at least) are edible mushrooms. One of the nice things about mushrooms is that gathering wild mushrooms is still a relatively common practice, unlike a lot of other foods. Mushrooms that grow in the wild aren’t irrigated, so their virtual water imprint is zero.
If you’re nervous about trying wild mushrooms, you can buy mushrooms from the store, but they’ll have a fairly high virtual water imprint. There will be variances based on the species and where it’s from, but mushrooms do best when they’re grown in damp, humid environments. If you can buy from farms that have those conditions and only shop when mushrooms are in season, you can keep your virtual water in check, but if you shop for greenhouse mushrooms, you may pay a hefty water price.
Another commonly ingested fungus is yeast – which makes bread and bread products rise. Like mushrooms, you can eat natural yeast and avoid the farm system entirely. Unlike mushrooms, you can grow yeast in any climate. Yeast spores occur naturally in the air, and while certain spores are native to different environments, you can grow your own yeast, and for those species that aren’t native to your own home, you can get a starter from another region and grow your own from that.
Perhaps because a lot of people still have a natural “ick” reaction to ingesting mushrooms, yeast, and other fungi, they don’t have the same sort of major agricultural industries that, say, corn or pork do. As a result, it’s much easier to stay more natural with fungus-based products than with others.