Money-making world of Mokhtar’s multi-coloured mushrooms

Ahmad Mokhtar Daud turned to mushroom cultivation after leaving the Navy. (Bernama pic)

PEKAN: Oyster mushrooms usually come in shades of grey, but a mushroom sifu from Kampung Panchor here has turned the cultivation of yellow, pink, white and black oyster mushrooms into a lucrative business.

Having assessed the flavour and texture of the multi-coloured mushrooms, Ahmad Mokhtar Daud, 46, subsequently came up with a murtabak filling of oyster mushrooms.

He also introduced the spit gill fungus (cendawan sisir) as the alternative main ingredient for the popular sambal hitam Pahang.

“Mushrooms can only stay fresh for a few days so I decided to use them in many different ways so that they last longer, are easier to carry and ready to eat at any time,” he said.

“It took me almost a year to come up with my recipe collection. My family members and the agriculture counsellor were my strongest critics,” he said in an interview.

Mokhtar, who is chief executive of his company Pekan Mushroom Resources, said the texture and subtle flavour of oyster mushrooms made it ideal when incorporated into a dish for murtabak filling.

Demand has surged as interest in vegetarian products has grown rapidly, he added.

Mokhtar, who is from Pendang, Kedah said, the company plans to market pekasam (fermented) mushroom and they are now in the midst of running the taste tests.

“To protect our innovative works we have patented the existing products and Alhamdulillah, our products have been well-received not only in Pahang but also in Kuala Lumpur and Sarawak.

“They are also popular among students living abroad as the shelf life is up to a year even without the use of preservatives,” he said.

After retiring from the Royal Malaysian Navy in 2017, Mokhtar intended to grow chilli plants but instead he turned out to be a mushroom entrepreneur. He now has six mushroom houses built on a 0.4 hectare-site.

“After a thorough explanation from the agricultural officer, I learned that cultivating mushrooms will be more suitable as it needed less capital, less maintenance, yields faster, does not require a big area and the demand is there,” he said.

The father-of-four said his initial capital was RM1,000 to buy 500 boxes of mushrooms which he then marketed through social sites including WhatsApp.

The colourful mushrooms had been a delight with customers, Mokhtar said. Apart from the colours, each mushroom type has a different texture.

“The most popular grey oyster mushrooms are commonly found but the other colourful mushrooms are chewier and have a stronger aroma.

“I have a customer who needs 100kg of white oyster mushrooms every month to make burger patties and from experience, the grey oyster mushroom is a little too watery and not suitable for such recipes,” he said.

To prepare the mushrooms, the boxes are filled with rubberwood dust, agricultural lime and rice bran steamed for eight hours and are left to rest for two days. They are then injected with mushroom spawn and arranged on shelves which are kept moist.

He said the oyster mushrooms are sold at RM16 per kg, while split gill fungus could be priced up to RM50 a kg.

“However, the houses of these two mushrooms must be at least 500 meters apart because the spores from the split gill fungus could spread and destroy the oyster mushrooms.

“Likewise, the coloured oyster mushrooms must not be mixed in one box… as only the dominant mushroom seeds will be able to grow to produce only one colour,” he said.

Mokhtar said he suffered losses of nearly RM100,000 in 2018 when his mushroom blocks were inflicted with a disease. He was unable to continue paying the salaries of 11 employees.

He says cleanliness is of paramount importance in mushroom cultivation. His efforts paid off and he now has 14 workers to assist him in the business.