Did You Know?
- Famous for their rich, smoky flavor, shiitake mushrooms are said to have 10 times more flavor than white button mushrooms
- Shiitake mushrooms are known as a symbol of longevity in Asia because of their numerous health-boosting properties
- Shiitake mushrooms may help boost immune system function and have antitumor, antifungal, antibacterial and antiviral properties
- Shiitake mushrooms are widely available at grocery stores, Asian markets and some farmers markets; look for mushrooms that are firm, smooth and tender. They should not be slimy, nor should they be too dry
- A simple, healthy Sautéed Mushroom recipe takes just minutes to make and will add valuable nutrients and flavor to your meal
Mushrooms are one of the most delicious types of fungi, and they're also among the most medicinal. Numerous species of mushrooms are being studied for their nutritional components and potential health benefits,1,2 and five types really stand out for their ability to deliver a tremendous boost to your immune system.3
You can't go wrong with any edible mushrooms, as they are rich in protein, fiber, vitamin C, B6, calcium and minerals, along with being excellent sources of antioxidants.4
Mushrooms contain polyphenols and selenium, which are common in the plant world, as well as antioxidants unique to them5 like ergothioneine, which scientists are now beginning to recognize as a "master antioxidant."6
That being said, if you're looking for the ultimate mushroom in terms of nutrition and flavor, the shiitake mushroom may be the best option. Famous for their rich, smoky taste, shiitake mushrooms are said to have 10 times more flavor than white button mushrooms,7 and they're known as a symbol of longevity in Asia because of their many health-boosting properties.8
7-Minute Recipe: Healthy Shiitake Sautéed Mushrooms
Shiitake mushrooms are easy to prepare and their robust flavor complements many ingredients, like chicken or wild-caught fish. The recipe below from The George Mateljan Foundation takes just minutes to make, and will add valuable nutrients to your meal. I made one slight tweak to the original recipe, however, by swapping olive oil for coconut oil, which I believe is a far superior cooking oil.9
Healthy Sautéed Shiitake Mushrooms
Calories: 212 per serving Serving Size: 2
- 1 pound fresh shiitake mushrooms (ideally organic), sliced
- 3 tablespoons low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin coconut oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Optional: 2 tablespoons each of fresh rosemary, oregano or feta cheese
- Chop garlic and let sit for five minutes to enhance its health-promoting properties.
- Remove stems from mushrooms and slice.
- Heat the broth in a stainless steel skillet. When it begins to steam, add mushrooms and cover for three minutes.
- Remove the skillet cover and let mushrooms cook for four more minutes.
- Toss with coconut oil and season with salt and pepper and whatever optional ingredients desired.
What Makes Shiitake Mushrooms So Healthy?
Shiitake mushrooms (Lentinula edodes)10 are a popular culinary mushroom used in dishes around the world. They contain a number of health-stimulating agents, including lentinan,11 the polysaccharide for which it was named.
Lentinan has been isolated and discovered to reduce the risk of stomach and other cancers due to its antitumor properties, and has also been found to protect your liver12 and relieve digestive ailments such as hyperacidity, gallstones, ulcers, anemia, ascites and pleural effusion.13
One remarkable piece of scientific research demonstrating shiitake's antitumor effect was a Japanese animal study,14 in which mice suffering from sarcoma were given shiitake extract.
Six of 10 mice had complete tumor regression, and with slightly higher concentrations all 10 mice showed complete tumor regression. Shiitake mushrooms also demonstrate:
- Reduced atherosclerosis15
- Antiviral16 (including HIV, hepatitis and the "common cold") effects
- Antibacterial and antifungal effects17
- Blood sugar stabilization18
- Reduced platelet aggregation19
- Cholesterol-lowering properties20
In another study, adding one or two servings of dried shiitake mushrooms to the subjects’ diet was found to have a beneficial, modulating effect on immune system function.21 The lentinan in shiitake mushrooms has been found to increase the survival rate of cancer patients.22
In fact, in Japan, the top two forms of alternative medicine used by cancer patients are a mushroom called Agaricus subrufescens (Agaricus blazei and Agaricus brasiliensis) and shiitake mushroom extract.23
The Mushroom Advantage: 4 Healthy Mushroom Varieties
If there's a certain edible mushroom that you enjoy, feel free to indulge, as they all have unique benefits. According to Steve Farrar, who has studied mushrooms professionally for the last three decades, Americans consume about 900 million pounds of mushrooms a year, but 95 percent of this is just a few types: the common button mushroom and its relatives, the Crimini and the Portobello mushrooms.
Granted, the button mushroom is an excellent low-calorie food, especially for diabetics.24,25 It contains a number of valuable nutrients as well, including protein, B vitamins (especially niacin) and vitamin D2.26 However, there are many other types of mushrooms worthy of consideration if you want to improve your diet, including shiitake, reishi, cordyceps, turkey tail and Himematsutake. You can learn more about these four healthy mushroom varieties in the infographic below.
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Shiitake Mushrooms Have Grown in the Wild Since Prehistoric Times
If you're interested in eating traditional food, shiitake mushrooms are a perfect choice; they have been found in the wild since prehistoric times and therapeutically used in Asian countries for millennia.27 While Japan was once the largest producer of shiitake mushrooms, China now produces more than 80 percent of commercially sold shiitakes.28
The U.S. also has about 200 commercial growers of shiitake mushrooms, about half of which are grown in a natural forest setting using downed hardwood trees as the cultivation medium, according to The George Mateljan Foundation.29 Ideally, you'll want to look for organically grown mushrooms, or those you know were grown in non-polluted forests, because they absorb and concentrate whatever they grow in — good or bad.30,31
This process gives mushrooms their potency, for better or worse. Mushrooms are known to concentrate heavy metals,32 as well as air and water pollutants. One way to know that you’re getting a quality product is to grow your own. You can find a variety of DIY garden kits available online, which will eliminate any questions about what kind of mushroom you're eating.
How to Store and Prepare Shiitake Mushrooms
Shiitake mushrooms are widely available at grocery stores, Asian markets and some farmers markets. Look for mushrooms that are firm, smooth and tender. They should not be slimy, but not too dry either.33 Store fresh mushrooms in a paper bag (loosely closed) in your refrigerator, where they will keep for about one week. Dried mushrooms can be stored in your refrigerator or freezer (in a tightly sealed container) for about six months to one year.34
When you're ready to eat your mushrooms, avoid submerging them in water for cleaning, as they will become soggy. Instead, wipe them off with a damp cloth or use a mushroom brush for cleaning.35 In addition to the healthy sauté recipe above, you can add mushrooms to virtually any savory dish you're cooking. Dried shiitakes, in particular, are excellent for adding robust flavor to soup stocks.36
+ Sources and References