It may come as no surprise that without fungi, we would not have stinky moldy cheeses such as Blue Cheese, Gorgonzola, Roquefort, Camembert, and Brie. Mold is, after all, mycelium, and different types of filamentous fungi are responsible for the “funk” on many of our favorite soft cheeses. Differences in the species of fungi will determine which type of cheese results.
Beer and Wine
Yeasts are classified as fungi, and we all know that without yeast there would be no booze. The genus of ale yeasts responsible for the fermentation of beer are called Saccharomyces, which means “sugar fungus.” These tiny fungi metabolize sugars and excrete alcohol as a byproduct. Try not to think too hard about that – You’re welcome!
The same yeast used to brew beer is also used to make our other favorite carb: bread. We call it Brewer’s Yeast, but its mama named it Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Spanish speakers might recognize the linguistic root of the word “cervesa.” Besides converting sugar to alcohol, this fungi also creates carbon dioxide as a by product of sugar consumption, which is responsible for the bubbles in dough, and the spongy texture of bread.
Aspergillus oryzae, or Shio Koji is a fungus responsible for the fermentation of soy sauce (as well as miso, sake, mirin, and shochu). Many of the umami-rich flavors and condiments of Eastern Asia owe themselves to this fungus.
Dry Cured Salami
The powdery white coating on the rind of cured meats comes from a fungus in the Pennecilium family. When meats are hung for dry curing, the beneficial fungi are encouraged to colonize the surface to prevent desiccation, and damage from light and oxygen, as well as defending against undesirable microorganisms.
Yeast is back again. This time it’s Candida krusei, and it’s fermenting cocoa beans into one more thing that makes life worth living: chocolate. The fungi ferment the sugars in the pulp of cacao fruit, releasing alcohol and heat, both of which break down the cell walls of the beans and lead to complex chemical and bacterial reactions that give chocolate its complex flavors.