“Rabbi Gamaliel sat and expounded, ‘The Land of Israel is destined to bring forth [whole] cakes and wool robes [straight from the ground]… But a certain disciple scoffed at him, quoting, ‘there is no new thing under the sun!’ ‘Come, and I will show you their equal in this world,’ replied he. He went and showed him morels and truffles [mushrooms which appear complete overnight]; and for silk robes [he showed him] the bark of a young palm-shoot [which has a downy, silk-like texture inside]” (Shabbat 30b).

This passage from the Talmud presents an interesting perspective on this unique food category. Although mushrooms are generally sold with the fruits and vegetables, they fit in with neither category, Similar to other produce, they are the reproductive appendage of a larger organism, but that organism is fungal rather than plant, and the mushroom contains spores rather than seeds.

More importantly, at least from a halachic (Jewish legal) perspective, a fungus feeds on the nutrients created by decomposition, whereas plants draw nutrients from the ground and through photosynthesis. Halchically, this difference defines the type of blessing required. Unlike the blessing over fruit (bo’ray p’ree ha’etz – fruit of the tree) and vegetables (bo’ray p’ree ha’ah’dama – fruit of the ground), before eating a mushroom one recites the blessing sheh’ha’kohl nee’yeh bid’varo, Who created all things with His word.

An interesting Talmudic passage goes on to explain: “If one vows to abstain from fruit of the ground, he is forbidden to eat of fruit of the ground but is allowed to eat morels and truffles [mushrooms]. If he said ‘I vow abstention from all that grows from the ground, he is forbidden to eat morels and truffles also” (Berachot 40b). This passage highlights the fact that while mushrooms grow from the ground, they are not considered to be the fruit of the ground.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

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