a1 CABI Bioscience, Bakeham Lane, Egham, Surrey TW20 9TY, UK
a2 School of Biological Sciences, University of Aberdeen, Plant and Soil Science, St Machar Drive, Aberdeen AB24 3UU, UK
Fungi are a good source of digestible proteins and fibre, are low in fat and energy and make a useful contribution to vitamin and mineral intake. In terms of current dietary advice, 80 g fungi represent one portion of vegetables. Dried fungi and concentrated extracts are also used as medicines and dietary supplements. Some species show strong anti-tumour and antioxidant activity by enhancing various immune system functions and lowering cholesterol levels. Nevertheless, there are also some safety concerns. Edible species might be mistaken for poisonous ones, high heavy-metal concentrations in wild edible fungi (WEF) are a known source of chronic poisoning and the consumption of WEF can contribute markedly to the radiocaesium intake of human subjects. Some regions of Europe have a strong WEF tradition, especially eastern Europe. In the UK the consumption of wild fungi is considered of minor importance. Only one-third of adults consume fungi (cultivated species and WEF) throughout the UK; the average intake of fungi in the UK is estimated to be 0.12 kg fresh weight per capita per year. At least eighty-two species of wild fungi are recorded as being consumed in the UK, although certain species (e.g. chanterelle (Cantharellus cibarius), cep (Boletus edulis), oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus)) are favoured over others. Although WEF are not essential components in the daily diet, they are a nutritionally-valuable addition to the range of vegetables consumed, and their role in helping to avert food shortages in less-favoured areas should be definitely considered.