Wild (Amakhowe) Mushrooms

You may have seen some of these popping up on your site the day after some rain.

The name “amakhowe” finds its roots in the Zulu language, meaning “wild mushroom.” In certain regions of South Africa, it is alternatively referred to as i’kowe. 

Amakhowe thrives in the wild in South Africa, primarily flourishing in subtropical forest regions, particularly in the northern parts of KwaZulu-Natal, hence why they grow here at Fairview and we have named one of our roads, Make Lane, after them. They can also be discovered in locations extending northward to Mpumalanga and southward to the Transkei.

Scientifically recognised as Termitomyces umkowaani, this mushroom showcases a significant, delicately textured resemblance to a beefsteak, with a cap that has the potential to attain a diameter of up to 30 cm.

Known for its sweet and subtly nutty flavour, it is a distinctive species in the fungal realm. Some people say they taste like chicken. This variety of mushrooms falls into a category that relies on termite activity for their “cultivation” and establishes a symbiotic relationship with the insects within termite nests. The termites transfer amakhowe spores to their nests, where the fungi play a crucial role in breaking down wood, dried grass, and decomposable materials like cellulose and lignin. These materials, indigestible to the termites, are transformed by the fungi into a biomass rich in nitrogen, serving as a food source for the insects. When spring rains arrive, the fungi swiftly generate the aboveground segment of the mushrooms, which becomes ready for human consumption within 24 hours.

Due to it being harvested from the wild by individuals, and not cultivated by humans, the annual amount of amakhowe fluctuates depending on the weather conditions. Rainy summers result in a more abundant harvest compared to dry summers. Typically gathered for personal, or family use or by select small local eateries, amakhowe can also be available at informal traders’ markets. In certain South African circles, these mushrooms are regarded as a regional equivalent to truffles found in other parts of the world. They play a significant role in local cuisine, often incorporated into dishes that feature meat and vegetable stews cooked over an open flame.

Have you ever tried an Amakhowe mushroom?

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