I love mushrooms. I’ve prepared many varieties in countless recipes over the years and never seem to run out of ideas for how to use them. Mushrooms in general have an excellent texture that simulates meat for those following a vegetarian diet. They tend to take on the flavor of what you put them in or on so they offer a nutritional punch without overwhelming the dish.
The benefits of shiitake mushrooms outshine other edible fungi, their flavor is fantastic, and over the last few years, they’ve become more readily available at local markets.
Shiitakes are the second most highly cultivated mushroom (we’re eating a lot of them). They might be new to the western hemisphere but Asian cultures have been utilizing these antioxidant powerhouses for thousands of years. Known as a medicinal mushroom, they’re mentioned in some of the earliest known writings by ancient healers.
The Best Stuff in Shiitake Mushrooms
- Copper (you can only get this through your diet)
- Pyridoxine (vitamin B6)
- Pantothenic Acid (vitamin B5)
- Riboflavin (vitamin B2)
- Niacin (vitamin B3)
- Choline (also lumped in with the B vitamins)
- Folate (vitamin B9)
- Vitamin D
They are naturally anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and (something I find amusing) anti-fungal. Not to mention they’re bursting with B vitamins to the point that they’re almost a B-complex supplement on their own! To date, there aren’t many studies on them in relation to human consumption and health but those which have been done have proven the incredible health perks of eating these delicious fungi.
Shiitake Mushroom Benefits You Want in Your Life
- Cancer Protection: Most of the research regarding shiitakes and cancer are in the form of extracts rather than the actual mushroom. However, despite that, the initial results are fascinating. The two most promising outcomes are the fungi’s ability to slow the growth of tumors and trigger cancerous cells to self-destruct (apoptosis). Future research in cancer applications will be exciting.
- Heart Health Promotion: The natural cholesterol-lowering effects due to the nutrients in shiitakes make them a better choice than any of the drugs on the market. No side effects, proven results in several studies, and delicious. There is also excellent data about these simple mushrooms’ ability to prevent hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) and oxidative stress to the heart muscle.
- Immunity Enhancement: Shiitake mushroom benefits to the immune system are well documented. They have the skills to repress an overactive immune system in the event of chronic inflammation and autoimmune disease but can also kick it into gear when your body needs help fighting sickness or infection. They’ve also shown the ability to enhance cells known as macrophages, which have the job of identifying and destroying potential cancer cells. In general, you get a serious immune system boost with the addition of shiitakes to your eating plan.
Preparation and Enjoyment
When preparing shiitake mushrooms, you shouldn’t soak them or rinse them in running water. They will hold the water and end up soggy. Dampen a clean paper towel and wipe each mushroom gently.
Mushrooms are an excellent addition to just about any recipe (soup, salad, casseroles, sauces, and more) on their own or in place of meat. To eat them as a side dish, they can be lightly sautéed in olive oil over medium heat for a few minutes.
Shiitake Mushrooms with Leeks
- 2 cups vegetable broth (organic)
- 1 cup water
- 4 cups cooked quinoa, rice, or pasta (rinsed)
- 3 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley or basil (finely chopped)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 large leeks (thinly sliced – approximately 3 cups)
- 4 cups shiitake mushroom caps (thinly sliced)
- 1 ½ cups red bell pepper (chopped)
- ¼ cup dry white wine
- ½ cup walnuts (chopped)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Prepare quinoa, rice, or pasta and set to the side.
- Heat olive oil in medium skillet over medium-high heat.
- Add leeks and sauté 6 minutes (should be wilted).
- Add mushroom caps, bell pepper, and wine.
- Cook 2 minutes or until vegetables are tender.
- Add remaining ingredients, toss well, cook an additional 30 seconds.
- Remove from heat.
- Place 1 cup quinoa, rice, or pasta in bottom of bowl, top with shiitake mixture.
- Serve immediately.
I prefer organic mushrooms since the commercially produced ones have much of their nutritional goodness cultivated out. Look for shiitake mushrooms that have been “forest farmed.”
It’s now possible to grow them at home and I might give this a try at some point. I don’t think I’ll be able to grow enough to sustain how many I use!
Like other fungi, shiitakes have no roots, leaves, seeds, or flowers…they simply exist. The benefits of shiitake mushrooms are exceeded only by their flavor and versatility so add them to your cart during your next shopping expedition.