- What are Shiitake Mushrooms?
- Shiitake Mushrooms Nutrition
- Health Benefits of Shiitake Mushrooms
- Choosing and Preparing the Right Shiitake Mushrooms
What are Shiitake Mushrooms?
Mushrooms have been widely consumed all over the world as a delicacy and also for health benefits. Aside from the inedible toxic mushrooms, mushrooms have been a big source of food in over 60 countries around the world. Most mushrooms grow on dead trees, absorbing as much UV light as possible. Because of that, mushrooms are known to have a lot of vitamin D, a key vitamin for human growth. Of the many edible mushrooms that you may have seen or tasted, did you know that shiitake mushrooms make up about 25% of total cultivated mushrooms in the world? Often seen in Asian cuisine, the shiitake mushroom is a key ingredient in Japanese food culture.
Shiitake mushroom is a specific mushroom that is grown on a shii-tree (Castanopsis cuspidata, or Japanese Chinquapin). It is cultivated by cutting a log of a decaying shii-tree that contain shiitake mushroom spores. With new cultivation methods, shiitake mushroom cultivation has spread not just in Japan, but to a variety of places around the world.
shiitake mushroom has a wide brown hairy cap with a long bare stipe (stem portion). It is often sold raw or sun-dried, and both of these preparations play different roles in Japanese culinary culture. In the recent years, shiitake mushrooms have expanded its culinary roles not just in Asian cuisine, but in Russian and other European cuisines. This article will explore the secret to its popularity as well as tips on how to prepare your favorite shiitake mushroom dish!
Shiitake Mushrooms Nutrition
All mushrooms have a high content of vitamin D, but shiitake mushroom, with its transparent white gills, is said to have higher potential in achieving a high vitamin D content during its growing process. Aside from its high concentration of vitamin D, shiitake mushroom, while it’s a fungi, is rich in iron, magnesium, vitamin B and zinc. Shiitake mushrooms, like other mushrooms are low in calories, and help absorb fat. It is always good to use shiitake mushrooms when you are making a dish with excess oil (as is the case in Chinese dishes) so that the mushroom will absorb unnecessary fat.
In parts of Taiwan, shiitake mushrooms have been used as a supplemental ingredients for meat, due to its high content of iron and protein. Vegetarian “shojin cuisine” often consumed by Buddhist monks, use a lot of shiitake mushrooms to recreate taste and food texture of meats. Such “shojin cuisine” has since spread to the general population for its health and nutritional diet.
Fiber is also a key part of shiitake mushrooms. Fiber is an important player in normalizing digestion and bowel movements as well as lowering your cholesterol and controlling your blood sugar levels. If you are concerned about keeping a healthy weight, consuming shiitake mushroom will give you a significant amount of fiber to help achieve maintaining your weight.
Quick Fact: There are soluble and insoluble fiber which play a different role in the digestive process. shiitake mushrooms contain soluble fiber, whereas dark leafy greens contain insoluble fiber.
Health Benefits of Shiitake Mushrooms
Shiitake mushroom has for years been considered a medicinal mushroom, and for good reason. While a concrete link has yet to be discovered, researches have provided good evidence that shiitake mushroom has an anti-cancer benefit, especially with prostate cancer, breast cancer, and colon cancer. Extracts of shiitake mushrooms is being used as an immune-booster, where studies have shown to strengthen the body against bacterial infections like colds and viral infections like influenza and HIV-1.
Vitamin D is a necessity to the human body. While you may be taught to drink a lot of milk to get calcium, without vitamin D, your body cannot absorb the consumed calcium (you may find a lot of milks these days with added vitamin D). Your body is capable of creating vitamin D through direct contact with sunlight (ultraviolet rays). However, you don’t want to spend too much time out under the sun, and therefore, sufficient vitamin D from food is highly recommended. Mushrooms, because they absorb a lot of sunlight in its growth, contain high counts of vitamin D. Shiitake mushroom, especially dried shiitake mushroom, contains enormous amount of vitamin D. Vitamin D also helps you strengthen your immune system as well as promoting cell growth.
The richness in fiber also has many health benefits. Those who are worried about cardiovascular diseases (cholesterol) and diabetes (blood-sugar levels) should consume shiitake mushroom, because it will help lower/control them. It also absorbs fats in food, so eating a lot of mushroom with various oily dishes will help prevent your body from taking them in.
There has been studies on shiitake mushrooms and beauty effects as well. Cosmetics companies have begun using shiitake mushroom extracts in their products because the kojic acid found in shiitake mushrooms is believed to prevent the formation of melanin (pigment) in the skin for a brighter complexion of skin.
Choosing and Preparing the Right Shiitake Mushrooms
There are two ways of cultivating shiitake mushrooms – on natural logs and the sawdust method. The traditional method of growing shiitake mushroom is on a natural log. However, the preparation of the right log takes about 6 to 18 months, and has a life span of about 4 years until the wood cells are eaten up by the mushroom. This is considered to be an “organic way” of growing a shiitake mushrooms because the natural logs are stronger and more immune to natural diseases. The sawdust method, on the other hand, uses an artificially made “log” with sawdust and grains. These are cheaper and more controllable when cultivating indoors. However, these logs are often prone to diseases and growers are known to use pesticides to protect their harvest.
In Japan, the price difference of these two methods of growing shiitake mushrooms are very different. The sawdust method mushrooms go for about $4 a pound versus natural log shiitake mushrooms that go for about $40 a pound. In the United States, most of the shiitake mushroom you see at the supermarkets will be the sawdust variety. However, there is a difference in the quality among the sawdust, and thus you must choose your shiitake mushrooms wisely. (Some sawdust high-quality ones are as good as the natural logs)
Look at the gill (under the cap) and see if they are pure white and unbroken. Lower quality mushrooms will have yellowish broken gills. The stipe should be shorter and the size and color should vary on the mushrooms. If naturally cultivated, there is no way all the color, size and shapes will be uniform.
Shiitake mushrooms, like other mushrooms, should not be washed with water. Because they absorb water quickly, washing them with water will destroy the texture. If you are concerned about cleaning them, simply rub them with a slightly wet tea towel.
Dried shiitake mushrooms is another option. While raw shiitake mushrooms are great for stir-frying, dried shiitake mushrooms are considered to have a more savory taste. The drying procedure in the sun increases its vitamin D content, but also the amino acids (umami) in the mushrooms. Typical Japanese cuisine will use shiitake mushroom in the broth making process (for soba noodles, oden, etc) and will resort to dried shiitake mushroom for these purposes. Dried shiitake mushroom is readily available at your local Japanese supermarket. When using the dried shiitake mushroom, place them in cold water in a fridge for about 24 hours or more (use filtered or mineral water for better taste). Normally, shiitake mushroom will enlarge by about 3 to 5 times its original dried size. Use a container with a lid, place in enough water so that after the shiitake mushroom absorbs the water, you’ll still have water left over. The left over water is full of umami amino acids and should definitely be used for your next broth!