It is well known that some termite species construct nesting mounds that can protrude as high as 30 feet from the ground. Termite mounds can be found in South America and Australia, but the most well documented and awe inspiring mounds can be found in Africa. People from all over the world travel to African countries in order to view these amazing mounds on location. What may not be as well known, but perhaps even more astounding, is the ability of some mound-building termite species to cultivate mushroom crops for their own consumption. For example, in the African country of Namibia, mound-building termites cultivate mushrooms that are notable for their large caps, which are often the size of a large frying pan. These mushrooms are not just consumed by the termites that farm them, as the people of Namibia consider these mushrooms to be a delicacy.
The Termitomyces schimperi mushroom species is referred to as omajowa (plural), and ejowa or ejova (singular) by Namibians. Although termites only farm these mushrooms in Namibia, they are known in other countries as well. For example, Germans refer to ejowa mushrooms as Termitenpilz. The average ejowa mushroom weighs around 1 kg and the diameter of a cap is typically around 25 cm, making these mushrooms the largest of all termite-cultivated fungi. In addition to their large cap size, the stems of ejowa mushrooms are usually around 50 cm in height. These mushrooms are cherished by Namibians, some of whom search for them near termite mounds in order to consume and/or sell them at roadside stands in the country. Of course, there does not exist enough ejowa mushrooms to fill store shelves, so Namibians have tried cultivating these mushrooms on their own. Unfortunately for humans, termites are superior farmers, as human-grown ejowa mushrooms do not reach the size or taste standards of termite-cultivated ejowa mushrooms. Ejowa mushrooms reportedly taste like meat, particularly veal, and they are often used as a stand in for meat in recipes. It has become tradition in Namibia to search for ejowa mushrooms every rainy season. The mushrooms are found protruding from termite mounds, and it is customary for mushroom hunters to leave behind a few omajowa for the termites inhabiting the mounds.
Are you curious as to what a termite-cultivated mushroom tastes like?