Among many chefs and foodies of Hawaii, we all adore the prized Hamakua Mushroom that comes from the Big Island. We have such a love affair, especially with the huge containers available at Costco for such a decent price. To honor our beloved Hamakua Mushroom, we’ve decided to find out a little more about this delicious mushroom.
Bob Stranga was a pilot who loved Hawaii, especially the islands’ food. He dreamed of doing a culinary side project and, after reading a book about harvesting mushrooms, toyed with the idea of growing mushrooms for 15 years. Once he sold his helicopter business, he and wife Janice, were able to purchase the 35-acre (14-hectare) mushroom farm in Laupahoehoe on the Hamakua Coast of the Big Island in 2003.
Traditional hand planting ended up being too time consuming and labor intensive, so Hamakua Mushrooms are cultivated to grow out of a bottle using a method originally developed in Japan. Since bottle cultivation can be automated, the mushroom farm is able to produce at commercial levels.
This is great because local mushrooms were in demand from the start. While setting up the farm, the Strangas bought out all the wire rack shelving from Kona Costco. Curious about the purchase, Costco Headquarters in Seattle called the couple asking what they planned to do with the 223 shelving units they bought. Upon hearing that the couple were opening a mushroom farm, Costco said, “We want to be your first customer, and buy all of your mushrooms.”
Bob and Janice are passionate not only about bringing the highest quality mushrooms to Hawaii but about providing a sustainable, organic product that offers amazing health benefits and brings the community together.
The 16,000 square foot production facility is environmentally controlled and is equipped with automated specialty mushroom cultivation equipment, six indoor growing rooms, and a sterile tissue culture laboratory. The automation equipment and climate control measures ensures the company is able to consistently deliver exceptional mushrooms year round. Having their own laboratory allows Hamakua Mushrooms to produce their own mushroom spawn. The multiple growing rooms enable the business to supply a wide variety of mushrooms and mushroom products that have not previously been available locally on the Islands. Unlike many other mushroom producers, Hamakua Mushrooms doesn’t use pesticides. Their only pest control is a blend of clove and garlic oils used in their incubation room.
The signature mushroom is the Ali’i oyster mushroom. This mushroom is firm with a mildly nutty flavor and a resilient shelf life. It’s mostly stem, about measures about 6 inches long and one inch in diameter. With a protein content almost equal to animal protein and a great range of flavor depending on the preparation, the Ali’i mushroom makes an awesome meat substitute. This mushroom has antibiotic and antiviral properties and shows protection against cancer, tumors, high cholesterol, and inflammation.
Other mushroom varieties grown by Hamakua Mushrooms include:
– Pioppini Mushroom: This crunchy mushroom has a slightly sweet, peppery, and earthy flavor and a faint floral aroma.
– Abalone Mushroom: A crisp, dense, and spongy mushroom with a meaty texture that becomes slippery and velvety when cooked. The abalone mushroom has an earthy, buttery flavor with notes of pepper.
– Gray Oyster Mushroom: Offers a delicate flavor which has been compared to shellfish.
Hamakua Mushrooms are grown in a mixture called a substrate, made out of corncob, wheat bran, and grandis eucalyptus sawdust, all of which are local byproducts. Once the substrate is poured into bottles, the bottles are heated, sterilized, and cooled. Mushroom spawn is placed inside and incubated at a temperature of 167 degrees Fahrenheit (75 degrees Celsius). Mushroom roots colonize the bottles, starting out brown and becoming white. The top of the roots are scraped to kickstart the mushroom growing process. After about 20 days, the exotic mushrooms will flourish. Once the mushrooms are grown, this process comes full circle as the substrate is again recycled, sold to local farmers to strengthen their soil.
Hamakua Mushrooms loves partnering with other local Hawaii businesses to get everyone in on the mushroom fun. The gift shop is filled with mushroom-infused goodies including mushroom chocolate with Big Island Candies, mushroom-infused cookies with Rainbow Falls Connection, mushroom-dusted sweet potato chips with Blue Kalo Chips, mushroom honey with Big Island Bees, mushroom coffee with Rusty’s Hawaiian Coffee, and mushroom wine with Volcano Winery.
Knowing that around 90% of all food on the islands are imported, we love that these amazing mushrooms are grown locally, especially in such a sustainable and organic way.
“What makes Hamakua Mushrooms unique is they are grown in the light — versus in the dark — and draw their nutrients from a wood decomposing mixture versus a manure decomposing mixture. Our mushrooms hold less water as opposed to the button mushrooms so shrink less,” explains Janice Stanga, Bob’s wife and Hamakua Mushrooms co-owner and vice president. “Additionally, we recycle and reuse our mushroom substrate to create another product that helps farmers and school gardens grow their produce and increase their yields. We use plastic bottles so we can recycle them with every run, and use the eucalyptus from the forest that surrounds our farm. We also develop our value added products with local vendors to strengthen our business community and ensure that we are inclusive so we don’t compete within Hawaii, but are positioned to compete beyond Hawaii.”