By CHIN MUI YOON Photos courtesy of Korean Tourism
The rare Yangyang mushroom is in high demand for its unique and delicate taste.
THE Yangyang pine mushroom may look like a common fungi, but this tiny mushroom fetches a high price. In fact, it’s among South Korea’s most expensive natural products – 1kg costs over KRW200,000 (RM600)!
This puts Yangyang pine in the major league of luxury delicacies, together with the Italian truffle and the Japanese Matsutake mushroom, which is also a variety of pine mushroom.
These mushrooms command a high price because they are rare and grow in the wild. Also called Song-I pine mushrooms, they only grow under pine trees that are at least 30 years old.
Prized natural delicacy: Yangyang Pine Mushrooms are rare and only grow in the wild.
They can be found high up in the mountains of Yangyang County in the pristine Gangwon-do province in South Korea’s northeast region. The area’s triple attractions that draw thousands of visitors annually are its salmon, breathtaking sunrises and its annual harvesting of Yangyang pine mushrooms.
The Song-I are sought after for their unique, delicate and earthy pine scent. This mushroom is also hailed for its potent nutrients – it’s said to contain more vitamin B2 than other mushrooms. They also contain less moisture than other varieties.
The Korean Donguibogam (Treasure Book Of Eastern Medicine) states that wild pine mushrooms “are known to be the greatest among all mushrooms because it has the pine tree’s vigours and delicious fragrances with no content of poisons”.
The mushroom is so popular that an annual festival dedicated to it has been held for the past 14 years. At the Yangyang Song-I Festival held from Sept 15 to Oct 14 this year, visitors can embark on mushroom-hunting trips with certified harvesters, and attend food-tasting sessions, exhibitions, traditional dances and folk plays (including a Pine Mushroom Story Performance).
“We call them ‘diamonds’ of the forest! As much as we would love to consume them year-round, their rarity only allows us to harvest in autumn,” says Jeon Seong Ho, manager of the Tourism Division Marketing (Culture) for Yangyang County, during a recent visit to Korea Plaza in Kuala Lumpur to promote the mushroom and the festival.
“However, our beloved Song-I is becoming increasingly hard to find. It’s very sensitive to environmental changes. We are already experiencing a 60% decrease in harvest compared to a decade ago. Only 100 tonnes of Song-I were produced in 2009. As such, only certified harvesters can pick these mushrooms.”
Jeon Seong Ho, manager of Tourism Division Marketing (Culture) for Yangyang County. ‘We call them ‘diamonds’ of the forest,’ he says.
The Yangyang pine mushroom is synonymous with autumn to the Koreans, as a season of change before winter arrives. The mushrooms are categorised into three grades, according to quality. The perfect pine mushroom has to have a stout cap, a long tube of over 8cm, and a more rounded bottom compared to umbrella shapes, which fetch lower prices.
Luxury hotels in Seoul hold pine mushroom delicacy dinners every year, with set menus starting from KRW150,000 (RM408).
Chefs love working with the mushrooms for their versatility in both Eastern and Western dishes. They can be lightly salt-grilled, steamed in a kettle, deep-fried, thinly sliced and mixed into salads, or added to sushi rolls. They also make a delicious accompaniment to grilled Australian Wagyu beef sirloin, or simply tossed with pastas.
In traditional Korean dishes, the pine mushroom is often featured in Song-I mushroom bulgogi (a type of grill) and stews.
Lower grades of mushrooms are turned into jelly, drinks and snacks.
The Koreans are not the only people who rave about the Song-I; the Japanese too throng the festival every year.
“We encourage our visitors to experience traditional Korean homestay on farms and a bit of our countryside lifestyle in autumn!
The Yangyang region is known for its stunning natural attributes like the Osaek jujeongol waterfalls, Micheongol forests, Naksan beaches and Osaek hot springs. The pine mushroom represents all that is natural in this part of Korea,” says Jeon. -The Star