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Why are mushrooms sprouting up everywhere on Dubai menus?

You can't sit down at a fine dining restaurant these days without seeing some sort of varietal mushroom on the menu. And yes, I am including truffle in that 'shroomy premix. After all, it is a species of the Tuber and ectomycorrhizal fungi – try saying that with a mouthful of portobello. However, for this assessment, I will snub the shrub because the truffle fixation in Dubai is bordering fetish, and we can do without exploring that.

The purchasing and consumption of mushrooms has been steadily growing in the UAE and they frequently top trends lists worldwide – named "ingredient of the year" in 2022 by the New York Times. According to the consumer consultancy Circana, grocery store sales of fresh mushrooms increased by 20% in the US over the past decade, while sales of specialty 'shrooms doubled in the same timeframe. The global mushroom market is expected to reach an estimated $86.5 billion by 2027, research by market trend company IMARC has shown.

Here in the UAE, meanwhile, fungal fandom took a little longer to take hold, with almost all restaurants importing their mushrooms from Europe and Asia. After some supermarket foraging in Spinney's, I noted that they stock more than ten varieties, including king oyster and shiitake, while Carrefour stocks enoki from China (still the world's leading producer of mushrooms by far) and jars of Reflets De France cepes and morels from France. However, with the emergence of local agriculture and new farming practices booming, small humps have begun to sprout from Emirati soil, kinda.

The likes of UNS Farm, My Farm Dubai, Below Farm, Kinoko Farms, The Sustainable City, and Happiness Farm Hatta have all helped perpetuate mushroom mania in the UAE, with the cultivation of fungal fruiting bodies (primarily via biodome greenhouses and controlled environments, using vertical farming techniques). Much of this was spearheaded by the success of Al Ain Farms, founded in 1981 by the late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the first dairy and poultry integrated company established in the UAE. This, in turn, has helped inspire local chefs while creating an entire kitchen brigade of chef mushroompreneurs.


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