Mousa Kazemi and his wife, Sahar, sell oyster mushrooms at Grey Lynn Farmers Market on Sunday mornings.
Tell us a bit about your background. Where did you grow up?
In Iran. I went to university in the beautiful city of Shiraz, where Shiraz grapes come from. I got my first PhD there, and it’s where I met my beautiful wife, Sahar.
How did you end up in New Zealand?
I was invited here in 2008 to present on bioengineering. Sahar came along, we fell in love with the country, and decided that it was a great place to raise our two young daughters.
What did you do when you arrived here?
We ran a large free-range chicken farm in Kumeu before returning to my research roots, taking up an academic role at the University of Auckland. That’s where I did my second PhD.
What was your research about?
For my PhD, I developed a framework for reconstructing human anatomy – mainly in the lower half of the body, particularly knees. I also helped develop a new surgical system that allows people to postpone knee replacements. But it was another project, focussed on encouraging regeneration of cartilage in knees, that got me into growing mushrooms.
Mushrooms have a thread-like root system called mycelium, which has a fibrous structure that is very similar to collagen and that can help build cartilage. To do this research, I had to grow a lot of mushrooms. Sahar pointed out that people have been eating mushrooms for thousands of years and our business, Mushborn, began.
Why are mushrooms so good to eat?
They are not only delicious but they are also a great source of polysaccharides that reduce free radicals which are one of the main causes of inflammatory diseases. To get the maximum nutrition from mushrooms, they need to be cooked.
Why do mushrooms need to be cooked?
The cell walls of mushrooms contain chiton – that’s the hard substance that make crab shells tough. Nutritious polysaccharides are trapped inside the cells, but when mushrooms are cooked the chiton breaks down releasing the nutrients. Of course, you can eat mushrooms raw but you miss out on the precious polysaccharides - all you get is fibre.
What about if you fry mushrooms?
I recommend frying mushrooms in a dry pan over a high heat (about 200°C) for about 3 or 4 minutes. If you keep them moving in the pan, the water in the mushrooms will stop them sticking. Once the flavour has started to come out, you can add oil if you want but it’s not essential.
What sort of mushrooms are you growing?
We are mainly bringing oyster mushrooms to the market. They contain β-glucans that have proven antitumor, anti-microbial, anti-allergic, and immune-modulating effects. We are also growing shiitake, enoki, and Turkey Tail. Turkey Tail is one of the most studied mushrooms - it has got proven health benefits and we’re working on a making a Turkey Tail tincture.
And you offer mushrooms in many different forms?
Yes - most people buy fresh mushrooms by weight, but we also offer dried mixes, and grow your own kits. Mushroom powder is one of the most versatile because it can be used in smoothies, added to pasta, and even added to coffee.
How has the market worked for your business?
I love it! It’s different from other markets. I have been impressed by the relationships that I have already built with other stallholders – everyone is very supportive. And a third of my customers are already repeat customers. It’s great that there are so many regulars at the market every week to do their grocery shopping.
You had to miss a couple of markets recently
Yes – the Auckland Anniversary weekend storm washed out our driveway so we couldn’t get out. That was a big job to fix. And, in Cyclone Gabrielle, a tree fell on our power lines. But these were minor challenges compared to what others have experienced.
As published in Ponsonby News : March 2023