Wed, 17 May 2000

New instant mushrooms sprouting up in stores

By Joko Sarwono

BOGOR (JP): Instant noodles are nothing new, but what about instant mushrooms? Hold onto your saucepan, as they are set to appear at a supermarket near you anytime now.

The producer of this unlikely food guarantees it is properly preserved and retains its nutrient content for a long time, just like instant noodles.

Instant mushrooms have been developed by a group of young people at the Supa Fajar Mas cooperative. They have discovered a method to produce instant mushrooms using a simple technique and basic equipment.

"The main problem was obtaining dried mushrooms with a soft texture," said Endhi Pujosanyoto, the manager of the cooperative.

"After six months of experimentation, we finally discovered how to get dried mushrooms with a soft texture. The secret lies in the frying of the mushrooms," he said.

To make instant mushrooms requires only manual equipment. The process, lasting about 24 hours, consists of 4 stages (slicing of fresh mushrooms, drying, frying and packing).

"Though manually produced, we can give our assurance that the product has good quality and is hygienic," said Endhi, a graduate of the Agricultural Industrial Technology School, Bogor Institute of Agriculture (IPB).

The quality of the product is taken into account from the first time the fresh, white edible mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) are supplied by the farmers. There are four criteria concerning the quality of the mushrooms: water content, the hygiene aspect, variety and harvest age.

It is necessary to subject the mushrooms to tight evaluation because the quality of the raw material will affect the quality of the instant mushrooms, Endhi said, adding that if the four criteria were not met, the product would easily rot.

Quality control is also exercised during the production process. Because mushrooms have a high protein content, efforts are made to maintain the quality of the protein.

"This is important because selling instant mushrooms actually means selling their protein," he added.

At the drying stage, fresh mushrooms are put into a low- temperature oven, ranging from 30 degrees Celsius to 45 degrees Celsius for 18 hours. "A higher temperature, such as 55 degrees Celsius to 60 degrees Celsius, will damage the protein content of mushrooms," he said.

At the frying stage, efforts are made to ensure that the mushrooms will have an attractive appearance and a better taste. The mushrooms are fried until they turn to the desired color. At this stage, it is also guaranteed that the protein remains intact.

Then the mushrooms are packed, along with fried onions, noodles, dehydrated vegetables and instant seasoning (herbs, salt, shallots, garlic, vegetable oil, sugar, spices, yeast extract and tocopherol).

"During the packing, it is the spices that can easily get damaged. As the packing equipment is still simple, spices get double packing. This means spending more money but it is necessary to ensure that the quality of the spices will remain good," he said.

Then the packaged instant mushrooms, weighing 39 grams net, are ready to be sold. The producer claims that the quality remains good for three and a half months.

The mushrooms are sold under the Sayurmas brand and are distributed to supermarkets in Bogor and Depok. During the first month of sales, they were to be found in 44 supermarkets. Now, owing to greater capital, the cooperative can produce seven boxes (48 packages in a box) a day.

He also said that only 49 percent of that amount had been sold to consumers. "This is good enough, considering that this is a new product, which is made in a simple way and sold to the public without any promotion," he said.

Sayurmas instant mushrooms costs Rp 1,650 per pack. In the future, the price will be cut to Rp 1,250. "Our production process is not efficient because our production equipment is still simple," he said.

Endhi says the cooperative now needs investors to improve product quality, including the packaging.

Commenting on the mushrooms, housewife Ani Sumarni said they were as delicious as chicken meat. "They taste better when served with fried potatoes," she added.

Unfortunately, she said, the packaging was not attractive. "They are unattractive as they are packed like Indomie instant noodles," she added.

A mushroom expert from IPB, Agustin Wydia Gunawan, said that this product could be the first of its kind in the world. "Once, when I was in Europe, I came across dried mushrooms, but only now have I heard of packaged instant mushrooms," she noted.