Xixia county is located in China’s central Henan province and renowned for the quality of its mushrooms.
Xixia mushrooms are prized for their thick flesh, rounded cap, cracked pattern, and smooth and tender texture. They also contain higher amounts of polysaccharides, protein and trace elements than similar mushrooms from other regions of China.
The mushrooms can be eaten as is, used to make fermented sauce, or as ingredients for other foods and health products. Local villagers fry the stalks of the mushrooms with chili and bean powder, salt and oyster, and spread the condiment on steamed buns as a treat.
The mushrooms are not only nutritious and tasty, they are also a multi-billion-dollar industry. Xixia is the largest dried mushroom distribution hub in China as well as the country’s largest mushroom information exchange center and price formation center.
Xixia mushrooms are a protected geographical indication (GI) in China, receiving the mark of distinction in 2008. Agricultural produce under GI protection has the potential to further broaden the market and create higher value. Like many other GIs, Xixia mushrooms are available for sale online through platforms like Pinduoduo, China's largest agriculture platform.
The edible fungi have certainly helped Xixia to prosper and connected the mountainous county with the world. Back in the 1980s, Xixia was a poor county and the local government had set its sights on mushroom growing to create employment and boost incomes.
Nestled in the mountains, Xixia’s climate is mild, with an average temperature of 15.2 Celsius degrees and a relative humidity of 69%, making it an ideal habitat for mushrooms.
By the mid-1990s, Xixia had become one of the largest mushroom production bases in China, but this achievement came at a cost. At the time farmers cut down local linden trees and used tree trunks to grow mushrooms. As more trees were cut down, the impact on soil erosion became serious, according to Xinhua News.
Realizing that these practices were not viable in the long run, the local government explored ways to develop the industry on a more sustainable basis. It called on mushroom farmers to switch from log to bag cultivation, which has higher yield and requires less labor. The government also started to build a trading center to extend the industry chain and add value.
Thanks to improvements in growing techniques, Xixia’s mushroom business became standardized, enhancing quality control and paving the way for expansion to overseas markets.
As of 2019, there were more than 300 companies in Xixia engaged in mushroom processing or export, with a total annual transaction value of 20 billion yuan. The mushrooms are exported to more than 30 countries and regions around the world, with an export value of $1.3 billion, a jump of over 400-times from 15 years ago.