In history class, you may have learned that salt and spices were once prized rarities that we now take for granted. Of course, rare edibles are still popular in modern society. For example, Italian truffles could fetch up to $4000 per kilogram.
In Bhutan, the prized Sangay Shamu (Tricholoma matsutake) would cost on average $1000 per kilogram, and according to the wild mushroom hunters of Gynekha village near the Bhutanese capital Thimphu, money does grow on trees.
To be specific, Sangay Shamu (which is the same species as the Japanese matsutake) would only grow directly underneath pine forest trees, underneath the cover of leaves, almost underground, deep in the mountain forest. Sangay Shamu depends on its host tree to grow, forming a symbiotic relationship with its roots.
The mushroom that cannot be farmed
Owing to the specific conditions for which the mushrooms can grow, like Italian truffles, the Sangay Shamu cannot be cultivated and grown in large numbers domestically. Japanese researchers could only produce a related bakamatsutake mushroom with an almost similar aroma profile to the wild variant.
However, the cheaper variant can never compete with the true and wild-grown Sangay Shamu. The very distinct appearance of Sangay Shamu is heavily infused with spicy and earthy flavors and juice that is both complex and irreplicable in the lab.
From forest directly to soups and stews
Sangay Shamu is a mushroom that becomes the centerpiece of Bhutanese soup dishes such as Shamu Datsi, a melting pot of matsutake, vegetables and cheese. The highly savory Sangay Shamu is thought to complete much of the savory flavors infused in the soup, with the yak or dairy cheese helping to add a creamy texture.
When Sangay Shamu is rare during autumn and winter, the Bhutanese would then make use of other mushrooms, such as gypsy, shitake, and oyster mushrooms.
It gets rarer by year
Climate change is part of the reason why the Sangay Shamu is not growing as widely as it once did in previous years. Inadequate snowfall and more moisture caused by melting glaciers upstream have changed ground conditions to be less ideal for the growth of Sangay Shamu.
At this rate, the Sangay Shamu may not be around for long. This is what makes Bhutan’s prized mushrooms all the more special and worth experiencing first-hand. Flagship Luxury Expeditions invites you on a spiritual journey through the last Himalayan Kingdom. Join us and begin your journey here.