What are they? The edible fungi sprout up in an impressive array of sizes, shapes, and flavours. Though you'll find mushrooms in the produce section, they grow differently than vegetables or fruits - not from seeds but from microscopic spores. During the reign of Louis XIV, special caves in France served as mushroom cultivation areas. Nowadays, some of the mushrooms we eat grow naturally from soil and off the sides of logs and trees, while others are cultivated in Petri dishes or scientifically formulated compost.

What are they good for? Mushrooms provide loads of vitamins and minerals for practically no calories or sodium and zero fat or cholesterol. And you needn't worry about shelling out for fancy mushrooms. The affordable, common types of mushrooms have similar healthful benefits. Included in mushrooms' impressive nutritional profile are the immune-supportive and antioxidant minerals selenium and zinc, the kinds of nutrients you'd more often find in meats and grains (such as protein and the B-complex of vitamins), along with levels of potassium on par with a banana.

What do they taste like? You could find ways to add the mighty and versatile mushroom to breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Mild-tasting white button and slightly earthier-flavoured brown mushrooms (Crimini) are the most commonly spotted fungi in the marketplace. But if you broaden your palate, you could also enjoy big, meaty portabella or the delicately-flavoured, fan-shaped oyster mushroom or the woodsy tastes of shiitake or porcini mushrooms. For a texture twist, try crunchy spindly-stemmed enoki or petite beech mushrooms. Don't take risks with wild mushrooms, like chanterelles, truffles, or morels. Only eat those prepared at restaurants or that you've purchased from a reputable food store. You could find ways to add the mighty mushroom to any meal of the day. Versatile and easy to cook, mushrooms can be sautéed, broiled, and roasted, and hearty portabellas can even be sliced and grilled like hamburger meat.

Selecting and storing mushrooms: To select the freshest mushrooms, look for ones free of bruises or other signs that they're past their prime. Only buy freshly packaged mushrooms if they are in a container with holes that allow air to flow through. Keep loose mushrooms in a paper bag in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Wait to clean mushrooms until you're ready to prepare them. Cleaning can be done with a damp cloth or a mushroom brush or with a simple water rinse and patted dry. Save the stems to toss into a soup stock!

Amy Toffelmire