Björk is in her mushroom period. The Icelandic singer-songwriter's new album, "Fossora," was guided by her "spirit fungus," resulting in a studio album that alternates between lush and sparse instrumentation, knit together by the artist's incisive, cutting and occasionally buoyant lyrics about connections, both human and mycological.
"It always starts as a feeling for me. I want to get in contact with the earth. Take my shoes and socks off, put my toes in the soil and just like sit on the ground and like, 'Mmmmm," Björk told Pitchfork in an October interview about her inspiration for the album, which includes tracks like "Mycelia" and "Fungal City."
She went on to explain that during the pandemic, she stayed in her Icelandic cabin for two years and was really able to "put down roots," resulting in what she has deemed her "mushroom root" album.
"[A] 'tree root album,' if there is such an album, that would be quite severe and stoic," she said. "But mushrooms, they're fun, right? They're psychedelic and they're bubbly and they pop up everywhere. They're mostly traveling through the whole forest."
Björk's "Fossora," which is her 10th album, isn't the first time mushrooms have been thrust into the international spotlight over the last year.
From the couture runway to underground dispensaries, home kitchens and the far corners of Etsy, all things fungus are having a moment. But why was 2022 seemingly the year of the mushroom — and will the mass mycophilia extend into the new year?
* * *
The early days of the pandemic saw an increase in interest in the "cottagecore" aesthetic. As Rebbeca Jennings wrote for Vox in 2020, it is a particular brand of lifestyle content that positions pastoral landscapes and gentle homemaking activities as aspirational. She writes:
It is doilies, snails, and DIY fairy spoons crafted from seashells. It is illustrations from Frog & Toad, stills from Miyazaki movies, two girls kissing in a forest in springtime. It is a laughably arduous tutorial on how to make homemade rosewater whispered to you in a British accent. It is eyelet blouses and soft cardigans and hair ribbons and too much blush. It is Beatrix Potter, The Secret Garden, Miss Honey from Matilda, the Shire.
Much of this sprang from or intersected with the resurgence of "urban homesteading" activities — such as raising backyard chickens, gardening, canning, quilting and baking — seen during the first wave of the pandemic as many Americans sought both a sense of self-reliance while existing social structures were upended and wholesome activities to pass time during stay-at-home orders.
Foraging became particularly popular because it exists at the intersection of those desires. While supermarket shelves may have been bare because of supply chain disruptions, there are still ingredients to be collected from the forest floor (all the better if they are stored in an Instagrammable wicker basket). Foragers who shared their tips online, like the stylish and informative Alexis Nikole — known on social media as @blackforager — saw a dramatic spike in followers.
"Everyone was afraid of going to the grocery store when I started my TikTok foraging videos in April 2020," Nikole told Bon Appetit. "So I thought: Hey! Here are a few plants that are really common and probably growing in your neighborhood that you can gather, and maybe that'll stretch your groceries a bit."
Nikole now has over 1 million followers on Instagram and nearly 4 million TikTok followers; earlier this year, she was awarded a James Beard award for best social media account. Her content is primarily educational, but there is definitely an element of escapism in her videos, which show her in floppy sun hats, stepping gently through sun-dappled fields.
Mark "Merriwether" Vorderbruggen, who runs the website Foraging Texas from his suburban home outside Houston, told Business Insider in 2020 that he noticed some of the romanticization of foraging — especially from those who live in urban or suburban locales — occasionally has a slightly darker edge.
"I still get emails from people that say, 'I am done with society, done with humanity. I'm going to run off into the woods. What plants can I eat?'" Vorderbruggen said.
That's where "goblincore" comes in.
Amanda Brennan, former head of editorial at Tumblr, told Nylon that "goblincore finds beauty in traditionally undesirable aspects of nature like the dirt the mushrooms sprout from, the earthworms that call that soil home, and the crows that feed those earthworms to their babies."
Where cottagecore is fields of edible wild flowers, goblincore is darkened forest floors covered with slick mud, knotted moss — and, of course, mushrooms.
The term goblincore seems to have originated on Tumblr in the mid 2010s, but like cottagecore, interest in it really solidified during the pandemic. According to Etsy, an e-commerce company that focuses on handmade or vintage items, there was a 652% increase in searches for "goblincore" from June 2020 to June 2021.
As of this month, that same search term returns 34,266 results, thousands of which are mushroom-themed items, ranging from Converse sneakers embroidered with red and white-spotted amanita muscaria to miniature terrariums that hold wispy little enoki mushrooms.
* * *
Starting in early 2021, mushrooms began transferring from the crafty corners of Etsy to major fashion runways. In January of that year, Dutch couturier Iris Van Herpen looked to the "intricacy of fungi and the entanglement of life that breathes beneath our feet" for her new spring collection, according to the design house's show notes.
Later that year, designer Jonathan Anderson (who showed the New York Times in 2019 that his office desk is covered in "more than 27 late 19th- to early 20th-century French ceramic mushrooms that he bought at auction") leaned into toadstool-inspired shapes for his ready-to-wear fall and winter collection.
Alexander McQueen's fall 2022 collection was less subtle in its mycological inspiration; as Vogue noted, "'mushroom girl' beauty ruled the runway" with mushroom-patterned knits and a mycelium-themed, crystal-encrusted mini dress.
"Mycelium connects even the rooftop of the tallest skyscraper to the plants, to the grass, to the ground, to animals, and to human beings," the show notes read. "Mycelium has the most profound, interconnecting power, relaying messages through a magical underground structure, allowing trees to reach out to each other when either they or their young need help or are sick. We exist as single, individual entities on one level, but we are far more powerful connected to each other, to our families, to our friends, to our community."
Meanwhile, Stella McCartney's spring 2022 show opened with the voice of American mycologist Paul Stamets. Over a bed of music created by taping and manipulating the sounds of mushrooms growing, Stamets matter-of-factly declared: "In fashion…mushrooms are the future."
In that show, as Refinery29 reported, McCartney debuted the label's "first-ever bag made from Mylo™, a trademarked mycelium-based material created by the biotechnology company Bolt Threads, the show felt like an announcement of the material's official arrival in the luxury fashion space."
The aesthetic appeal of mushrooms is undeniable; much like florals, there is ample inspiration from which fashion designers can draw, from the delicate light scarlet frills of the pink oyster mushroom (pleurotus djamor) to the gothic deep purple-to-onyx ombre of black trumpet mushrooms (craterellus cornucopioides). The superficial appeal of fungi is one of the reasons photographer Andrea Gentl looked to the "diverse, healthy, adaptogenic magic mycelia of the fungi kingdom" when developing her 2022 cookbook "Cooking With Mushrooms: A Fungi Lover's Guide to the World's Most Versatile, Flavorful, Health-Boosting Ingredients" — and likely one of the reasons Vogue featured the book in October.
As Vogue's Lara Johnson-Wheeler reported, Gentl worked in collaboration with her husband Martin Hyers on the book's photography.
"The resultant imagery is vividly creative, playing with light and shape to highlight the distinction in texture and color between each variety of mushroom pictured," Johnson-Wheeler wrote. "Gentl both shot with a food stylist and in a more casual setting at home, working with props from her collection of crockery and utensils to showcase her dishes in all their diversity."
* * *
Despite mushrooms' inherent diversity — fully showcased in Gentl's book in recipes like mushroom ragu and enoki Alfredo — they've caught a bad rap in American cooking for a very long time.
In 2015, The Washington Post published a story about the "science of disgust" and cited a list of polarizing foods that included liver, cricket flour, cilantro, animal organs — and mushrooms. Two years prior, Buzzfeed published a list of the "18 reasons mushrooms are a garbage food," which included reasons (a term I use loosely here) like "they are slimy weird bulb food!!!" and "Some of them LOOK LIKE BRAINS."
For some, their texture is polarizing — like in that Buzzfeed article, the word "slimy" gets thrown around a lot. But I tend to agree with food writer Bettina Makalintal's assessment that often mushrooms just aren't prepared well.
"I could eat mushrooms every day," she wrote in a January article for Bon Appetit. "And when I plan my grocery shopping just right, I do. This affection is, at times, controversial; many people hate mushrooms, eagerly attributing their distaste to the fungus's taste and texture. I'd argue it's almost always a case of misplaced blame: Why beef with the mushroom when it was the cooking method that did you dirty?"
Her preferred method? Squished in a very hot pan and sizzled until they have a "golden brown crust and frizzled crispy edges." And while Makalintal writes that she learned this from the Sarno brothers, "the mushroom savants behind Wicked Healthy, who use it to turn big chunks of mushrooms into beautifully charred steaks," her own TikTok posts showcasing this technique, as well as other mushroom preparations, are very popular.
In large part, I think it's because her recipes, including mushroom adobo, oyster mushroom tempura and crispy enoki mushrooms, showcase their inherent versatility, especially as the rise of plant-based eating over the last decade has seen many home cooks and chefs regarding mushrooms differently.
Mushrooms have the distinct benefit of being earthy and umami-packed when seared or smoked, making them a viable meat substitute; they are subtle enough, though, that they can take on the flavor of other ingredients and spices beautifully. Additionally, over the past several years, mushrooms — and mushroom powders, which Gentl writes about specifically in her cookbook — have also been positioned increasingly as a "superfood."
Mushrooms have the distinct benefit of being earthy and umami-packed when seared or smoked, making them a viable meat substitute; they are subtle enough, though, that they can take on the flavor of other ingredients and spices beautifully
"I didn't want to get too heavy-handed with the whole wellness trend," Gentl told Vogue. "Everywhere you look, you see mushroom supplements and Chagacchinos."
As I reported for Salon Food earlier this year, Chagacchinos (or "mushroom coffees") are seeing a boost in popularity. These frothy, earthy beverages are typically made by blending coffee beans and mushrooms that are touted for their health benefits, including the reishi, lion's mane, chaga and cordyceps varieties.
While some of those claims haven't been proven in a lab setting, the founders of Four Sigmatic, one of the most popular mushroom coffee brands, uses lion's mane and chaga extract in their brew. The lion's mane, they write, is the "brain's best friend when you want to get stuff done," while chaga has "also been used to support immune function for centuries."
Many adaptogens are also marketed as help for stress management. In an article for the journal Pharmaceuticals, researchers wrote that "adaptogens increase the state of nonspecific resistance in stress and decrease sensitivity to stressors, which results in stress protection."
Functional fungi aren't just popping up in the coffee space. As Amy McCarthy reported for Eater earlier this month:
There are now mushroom-infused sparkling teas, fancy chocolate bars, mocktails, coffee mixes, and granolas that claim to boost your brain, improve your mood, or help you live longer. Mud Wtr, a mushroom-based beverage that's described as an adaptogenic coffee alternative, has dominated my Instagram and TikTok feeds for pretty much all of 2022, while shroom-focused supplements, like those made by vitamin brand Fungies, have exploded across store shelves and Instagram ads.
At the same time, psilocybin — the actual psychedelic "magic mushroom" — is gaining popularity in the medical community as a prospective treatment for numerous mental health issues including depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
As Troy Farah reported for Salon, federally outlawed psychedelic fungi are suddenly springing up all over North America. The sudden burst of retail mushroom shops selling an illegal drug heralds a cultural and political shift in Americans' attitudes towards psychedelic mushrooms, which were banned in 1970 in the U.S. and in Canada in 1975.
"Functional fungi — that is, fungus with alleged health benefits — are increasingly the center of wellness trends," Farah wrote. "But some so-called 'magic' mushrooms contain a drug called psilocybin, which is highly illegal in most places. That's slowly changing, however, following laws passed in Oregon, Colorado and Washington, D.C., plus more than a dozen cities across the U.S. that have decriminalized the naturally-occurring psychedelic mushroom, and sometimes other natural psychedelics as well."
* * *
So what's next for mushrooms in the new year? There aren't any signs that the fungi's surging popularity will slow down.
While the road to psilocybin legalization promises to be a long and uncertain one, and while the co-opting of mushrooms by the wellness industry could turn some consumers off from the ingredient due to its potential ubiquity, both the aesthetic and culinary attributes of mushrooms are undeniable.
For those reasons, IMARC, a market research firm, anticipates that the global mushroom market, which was valued at $58.8 billion last year will reach an estimated $86.5 billion by 2027.
Forget the year of the mushroom. The next decade promises to be defined by fungi.
of Salon's Best of 2022 stories