Mushrooms are not a common crop in Syria. With government blockades creating food shortages, however, Syrians in embattled rebel strongholds like Douma are increasingly turning to mushrooms as a substitute for meat. As years of drawn-out sieges place meat and other staples of Syrian cuisine beyond most people’s reach, The Adala Foundation, a local nonprofit, began brainstorming alternatives.

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mushrooms, Syria, meat replacements, meat substitutes, meat alternatives

“We turned to cultivating mushrooms because they’re a food that has high nutritional value, similar to meat, and can be grown inside houses and basements,” Abu Nabil, an engineer who is project director of the group, told AFP.

Mushrooms have proven to be a good source of protein and mineral salts, according to Muayad Mohieddin, Adala’s director. In addition, mushroom farming requires neither copious space nor deep pockets.

Related: These amazing zero-waste buildings were grown from mushrooms

There was just one problem: “This type of cultivation was totally unknown in Ghouta before the war,” said Mohieddin.

Growing bags of mushrooms in a climate-controlled room known as the incubator, Adala has managed to distribute 1,300 kilograms (2,866 pounds) of mushrooms a week to 500 people across Douma and other parts of Eastern Ghota at no cost.

mushrooms, Syria, meat replacements, meat substitutes, meat alternatives

“The distribution is free for the poorest families, and for those suffering malnutrition or spinal cord injuries that need lots of nutrients,” Abu Nabil said.

Many of the project’s recipients were unfamiliar with mushrooms and had never eaten them before.

One psychosocial center organized a workshop to teach people how to cook with mushrooms. Others turned to the Internet for tips.

“On the first day, I fried them up with some onions, and on the second day I cooked them in a yoghurt sauce,” said Abu Adnan al-Sidawi, who received mushrooms through Adala. “Mushrooms are delicious cooked and we liked them in the yogurt sauce.”


Photos by Harshal Hirve and Jade Wulfraat on Unsplash