Painstaking efforts and time are what make "Fuku-Fuku Shimeji" mushrooms so delicious
Fukushima Prefecture was the first in Japan to develop a cultivation technique for these hon-shimeji that can be used in natural environments, and has begun pilot cultivation of them as a registered original variety. Efforts to develop cultivation methods for hon-shimeji mushrooms began about twenty years ago. It took about ten years for researchers to identify the mushrooms that were well-suited to natural cultivation from the more than seventy wild varieties they collected. They then spent another ten years of trial and error trying to get those cultivation methods to work.
Wakako Narumi is the director of the Mushroom Promotional Center at the Fukushima Prefecture Forest, Forestry, and Greenery Association. She is supporting the production of the necessary cultures to grow hon-shimeji as well as pilot cultivation districts.
This commitment to natural cultivation methods means that producers can easily begin growing the mushrooms without owning large greenhouses or other facilities. Of course, the trade-off is that natural cultivation methods are extremely labor-intensive. “All this time is what allows the rich flavors to slowly build up in Fukushima hon-shimeji mushrooms,” Narumi told us, her quiet smile revealing the pride she takes in the finished product. “You can really taste the wild flavor, and a consistency that feels as if the fibers are falling apart in your mouth. In fact, when we analyzed the umami components of our mushrooms, we found that they contained more glutamic acid and aspartic acid than other mushrooms. I really hope everyone will try them and see for themselves how good they are.”
“We had a public contest to name the Fukushima hon-shimeji in 2018, and ended up calling the brand ‘Fuku-Fuku Shimeji’ [fuku-fuku means “plump” in Japanese, and the name is also a play on the name of the prefecture]. I think the word fuku-fuku perfectly captures what makes these mushrooms special and has helped people really fall in love with them.”
Fukushima is a large prefecture that encompasses a variety of different climates, each with their own growing conditions and seasons. Narumi and her team visit local producers and compile data on the cultivation methods ideally suited to each region, which they are putting together in a manual. They also give the producers advice on the cultivation methods they suggest.
She tells us that despite the effort involved, the producers are so impressed by the flavor once they actually follow through and harvest the mushrooms that they often say they can’t wait to tap into their possibilities and are ready to work hard to get there.
“I actually majored in forestry studies at university, and one of my professors was an expert in mushrooms. That’s how I got the job at the center in 1998. I took some time off to have children, but came back in 2016 and have been steadily doing mushroom research since then.”
More than twenty years later, Narumi is so at home in Fukushima that the local producers treat her like a daughter. “The people of Fukushima are genuinely kind and warm-hearted,” she says. “I love that about them. And thanks to the clean natural environment here, my atopic dermatitis has completely cleared up!” Narumi’s passion for her adopted home shines through.
We ended by asking Narumi what Fukushima Pride meant to her.
“The producers here had always been kind to us, but when I saw them keep working under such difficult conditions after the earthquake, I was driven to do whatever it took to help with the recovery effort,” she told us. “By helping to develop the local mushroom production industry as a Fukushima local and continuing to promote its unique advantages, I hope to give something back to this area.” It was clear from the way she spoke that Narumi’s passion for Fukushima comes straight from the heart.