You’ve been down to your fresh food grocer many times, gazing at the incredible variety of mushrooms on offer, including a shiitake mushroom. The different types are astounding, coming as no surprise that some contain far more benefits than simple taste.
Studied for centuries, these amazing plants, known as fungi, carry within them a myriad of uses. But have you ever wondered if there’s more to these little plants than just being ingredients?
While some mushrooms are suitable for adding to meals, others can harbor incredible health benefits. Modern scientists are researching many of these benefits and making surprising discoveries.
The Shiitake, named after the tree on which they mostly grow, is readily available around the world. But for many who purchase them for a little extra flavor in their soup, the real benefits remain a mystery.
The mushroom goes by several names. The more common ones are Shiitake, Chinese mushrooms, and Black mushrooms.
They are a versatile mushroom, available in many forms. But there are those that do know its many secrets. They are the lucky ones that understand Shiitake’s many health benefits to treat illness and injury.
Where did Shiitake Mushrooms come from?
Found in the southeast regions of Asia, Shiitake mushrooms often grow in groups upon the decaying logs of deciduous trees. These logs include varieties like-
Southeast Asia’s warm and moist climate is most suitable for the mushroom to flourish, the history of its cultivation dating back as far as 1209.
A Japanese book on Shiitake cultivation, written in 1796, later used the brief description from the ancient text.
The Japanese would use axes to chop Shii trees down and position the logs beside others already growing the mushrooms or containing the fungal spores.
A report written in 1982, described the budding and subsequent growing of Shiitake mushrooms. United States growers adopted this discovery, which led to opening new and exciting opportunities for commercial cultivation.
Following America’s success, the newly-discovered methods soon spread to other countries, who adopted the knowledge to begin their own Shiitake growing operations. Prior to this report, the Japanese variety grew only in traditional locations through ancient methods.
How does a Shiitake Mushroom taste?
In its raw form, the mushroom evokes rich buttery, meaty flavors which sets them apart from other varieties considered more common.
The texture is also quite unique because of its lower water content when compared to other mushroom types. While most mushrooms contain up to 90% water, some Shiitake mushrooms only contain around 75%.
This gives the fungi quite a firm feel that almost verges on chewy. Given the reduced water content, the taste is also more intense as it is less diluted by water.
Shiitake mushrooms taste “Umami”. A savory or meaty taste, umami is the fifth food descriptor, alongside bitter, sweet, sour and salty. More unknown in western culture, umami tastes are popular in many Asian dishes.
The Different Forms of Shiitake Mushrooms
Shiitake mushrooms can be consumed in many different forms. When it comes to eating Shiitake, you can cook them either fresh or use them in a dried form.
Fresh Shiitake Mushrooms
Serving Shiitake in its fresh form is but one method in many. Preparing the fungus further, adds to the incredible popularity of such a versatile plant.
Many stockists store various forms of Shiitake, filling demand with quality products.
Dried Shiitake Mushrooms
Dried Shiitake is a common alternative to fresh varieties. Reducing the water content to zero intensifies its normal flavors further. It also adds a certain smokiness that enriches the experience.
Dried Shiitake mushrooms have several interesting uses, described in more detail below.
Growing Your Own Shiitake Mushrooms
Shiitake grow kits are increasing in popularity. It is a fun hobby that kids love to participate in.
It is worth noting that out of the 2 main methods of growing the mushroom, one is far more popular.
The mushrooms grown on logs retain their original taste while sawdust-grown mushrooms lack the intensity. It seems that nature itself still holds the key to perfecting the taste of Shiitake.
How do I prepare my mushrooms?
While some mushrooms may take a little more effort to prepare them for human consumption, Shiitake mushrooms take very little.
The mushrooms grow on tree logs or stumps, never actually coming into contact with dirt. The varieties grown in sawdust require little effort to prepare as well. As in nature, dirt isn’t used in their cultivation.
Simply give the mushrooms a wipe with a moist paper towel. This removes any obvious contamination like dust or plant matter.
Removing the stems is quite common and highly recommended as they can be quite fibrous and unpleasant to eat. But add the stems to stews and soups to reduce wastage.
If your recipe calls for dried Shiitake mushrooms, soak them in warm water first. Soaking them before using, allows the mushrooms to properly re-hydrate.
Again, if stems are present, trim them off and discard them as they can be quite woody. Recommendations for Shiitake preparation exist because of centuries of trial and error.
Benefit from the mistakes of others and enjoy the mushroom the most perfect way known.
How can I consume Shiitake Mushrooms?
There are a number of ways to consume Shiitake mushrooms, each with its own benefits. The main methods are-
Deciding for what you’d like to use the mushroom for will determine the best state to prepare it from. While some enjoy nothing more than popping a fresh one in their mouths, others love to increase the flavors. They do it by frying them over high heat.
Listening to sizzling is crucial when frying them. This ensures cooking creates a firm and crispy shell that intensifies the delicious flavors.
Dehydrated Shiitakes are popular for use in many soups and stews. Despite them being added to a pot of hot liquid, still re-hydrate them prior to use.
This ensures a plumper texture as well as removing any dirt particles that are otherwise added to your food.
Snacking on Shiitake mushrooms may not be something you’ve ever considered before. Crispy pea pods, wasabi peas and various other exotic snack foods also exist and are popular snacks. Why not add some sensationally seasoned crispy Shiitake mushrooms to tickle your taste buds?
You can check out some delicious recipes for Shiitake mushrooms here:
Is there a right way to re-hydrate dried Shiitake mushrooms?
Using Dried Shiitake Mushrooms
There is a right way and a wrong way to re-hydrate your dried Shiitake mushroom. By wrong, it’s more meant as an avoidance than a warning.
The following instructions are a guide. You can adjust them to your own requirements or time restraints.
Step #1: Rinse the dried Shiitake mushroom under cold water.
Step #2: Once rinsed, place them into a bowl of warm water, ensuring the mushrooms don’t simply float on the surface. If they do, use a small plate or saucepan lid to keep the mushrooms beneath the water surface.
Step #3: Soak the mushrooms for between 20 and 30 minutes, testing for required softness. The exact soaking times will vary and depend on the thickness of the mushrooms.
If you’re in a hurry and the standard method isn’t quick enough, you can submerge the mushrooms into hot water. This will speed up the process but will impact on the overall taste.
If re-hydrated in hot water, Shiitake mushrooms tend to lose their wonderfully aromatic flavors. The best suggestion, if time permits, is definitely cold-water soaking.
Are Shiitake mushrooms only used in food?
Besides containing health benefits discussed in more detail below, Shiitake mushrooms have also found their way into people’s hot beverage cups. Many are sipping their way to the benefits of Shiitake mushroom tea and Shiitake mushroom coffee.
Besides tea and coffee, many other forms of Shiitake mushrooms are available, including-
Are they really full of healthy stuff? Tell me some health benefits.
The Many Health Benefits of Shiitake Mushrooms
The National Cancer Institute website states that Shiitake mushrooms contain several anti-cancer substances, including Lentinan, which Japanese doctors have used for colorectal and stomach cancer. That’s a pretty good beginning when researching the common make-up of this little fungus.
Used in traditional Chinese medicine for many centuries, Eastern Russia, Japan, and Korea have also used Shiitake for medicinal benefits in their own history.
Many understand the healing benefits of Shiitake, given the scope of its own history.
The Chinese have long believed that Shiitake mushrooms improve blood circulation, as well as boost health and longevity and protect against many forms of cancer and inflammation.
A further 3 compounds aid heart health and contain cholesterol-lowering effects.
- Eritadenine- Inhibits cholesterol-producing enzymes.
- Sterols- Block cholesterol absorption in the gut.
- Beta-glucans- A cholesterol-lowering fiber.
What ailments can the Shiitake Mushroom be used for?
Scientists have discovered that after giving Shiitake to lab rats fed a high-fat diet, it reduced liver fat, the plaque on artery walls, and actively lowered cholesterol than rats without Shiitake.
The mushrooms have also been used for other ailments, some more well-known than others.
Shiitake is used for boosting the immune system, fight hardening of the arteries as well as lowering cold and flu symptoms.
In more severe cases, after using extensive trial and error, patients have reported results after using Shiitake against HIV/Aids, diabetes and eczema.
They contain anti-tumor properties that can inhibit the formation and subsequent growth of tumors. They may also contain properties purported to inhibit the growth of bacteria and microorganisms.
Sometimes a user may want a simple mouthwash to treat dental plaque, while others are looking for help with a simple stomach ache. But studies have also seen people use Shiitake for high blood pressure, Herpes, and Hepatitis B.
While Shiitake also contains folate, which benefits pregnant women, they are also full of other B vitamins, including-
- Riboflavin (B2)
- Folate (B9)
- Thiamine (B1)
- Pantothenic Acid (B5)
- Niacin (B3)
Should you try using Shiitake Mushrooms?
Scientists need to conduct a lot more research to substantiate many of the claims made by ancient medicine. But for those seeking alternative medicines for help, they are driven by those who swear by the results they themselves have already achieved.
For a lot of people seeking answers, the question might be as simple as “Could it hurt to try?”
While this article doesn’t purport to be the answer for the ailments or conditions listed, some research conducted certainly points at Shiitake mushrooms harboring more than great taste. With the many products available, it seems others agree.
Vitamin D is another common benefit from Shiitake, but for some people, one of the more popular beliefs refers to weight loss.
Yes, that fabled and often fantasized-about super-food that you’ll eat and have unwanted fat simply fade out of existence.
OK, so maybe not as dramatic as what one could hope for. But Shiitake mushrooms do contain hypolipidemic compounds that have shown to support weight loss during clinical trials.
These compounds have proven to reduce food intake, mitigate nutritional absorption and plasma lipid fat levels.
They also boost satiety, leaving you feeling fuller for longer. If eating yummy Shiitake will help with weight loss, then sign me up.
Are there any side effects from consuming Shiitake mushrooms?
Potential Side Effects of the Shiitake Mushroom
As with anything consumed in this world, there is always a slight chance that you may not be suitable to consume what others can.
While some people are allergic to shellfish, others face virtual death sentences if they come into contact with nuts. Dairy allergies, seafood allergies, and meat allergies are also quite common.
There are those that walk among us unable to consume stimulants, the effects of caffeine triggering heart murmurs or irregular heartbeats. Sesame seeds, strawberries, kiwi, all affect people differently.
Shiitake mushrooms can affect people in different ways. While considered a magical potion to some can turn into a virtual nightmare for others.
As with any ingredient you plan to consume, remember that it is user beware.
Effects to be wary of
When considering a diet high in Shiitake intake, there’s quite a difference when comparing normal food amounts of Shiitake and medical amounts of the fungi.
Medical amounts are far more concentrated and when taken, can lead to several uncomfortable side-effects, such as-
- Allergic skin reactions
- Blood abnormalities
- Breathing problems
- Stomach discomfort
- Increased sensitivity to sunlight
- Skin swelling
There are also special warnings relating to breastfeeding and/or expectant mothers who are considering using medical amounts of Shiitake.
Despite there not being enough scientific evidence to suggest Shiitake impacting pregnancies or breast-feeding mothers, judgment is better left on the side of caution.
There are also suggestions that Shiitake mushrooms can affect auto-immune diseases. Conditions like-
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Multiple Sclerosis
Shiitake helps increase the immune system’s activity, which may increase the symptoms of the conditions mentioned above, making them worse instead of better. Those considering Shiitake need to weigh up the consequences and whether the result is worth the risk.
Another condition that is known to increase symptoms for sufferers is eosinophilia, a blood disorder.
I’ve heard of Shiitake mushroom tincture. What is it?
Tincture is defined as an extract from any animal material or plant that is then mixed with some sort of alcohol to produce an elixir. The amount of alcohol used ranges anywhere from 25 to 90%.
This determines the use of the resulting solution or whether it can be ingested.
While there are chemical tinctures used in chemistry, herbal medicines use them as well, such as Shiitake Mushroom Tincture, seen here mixed with Vodka.
Some of these extracts can be mixed with a variety of solutions. The most popular is alcohol, but vinegar, ethanol, and glycerol are also alternatives.
If deciding to pursue the use of Tinctures, always read the instructions that accompany the package.
Some tinctures are not fit for human consumption. Some are used mainly for external uses such as creams and ointments. These solutions are normally mixed with ether or propylene glycol.
Could I go and pick my own mushrooms? Tell me about foraging.
Foraging for a Shiitake Mushroom
People around the world often forage for fresh mushrooms, whether while walking through the forest or spotting some by the side of a road.
They are known to grow wild in every part of the planet, often used as quickly as they are found.
While there are over 2000 species of mushrooms that we know to be edible, enjoyable and great sources of good stuff, consuming the other varieties can lead to chronic pain, ailments, and even death.
Extreme caution needs to be employed when choosing to forage for your own mushrooms, as some varieties that are deemed poisonous, can easily be mistaken for the more friendly assortment.
But if you’re keen to hunt, then grab your knife and let’s go find some. Shiitake mushroom foraging is best during a hot and wet climate. The mushrooms grow wild in China, Japan, Korea, however, the United States mostly cultivates them.
A combination of high rainfall and warmer temperatures promote the growth of shiitake mycelium.
The spores cling to hardwood logs, initially growing singularly, then growing in a clump as they mature with time. Just be sure to know what you’re picking before deciding to make that cut.
Learn more about the basics of mushroom foraging here: A Beginner’s Guide to Becoming A Mushroom Hunter
How about growing your own Shiitake mushroom?
Many people have chosen to grow their own Shiitake mushrooms.
There are many options to choose from, with plenty of websites actively promoting it as a genuine hobby for at-home gardeners. Some simple tips to keep in mind are-
Tip #1: Remember climate
Shiitake requires a hot and humid climate to grow so if growing them in a shed, be sure to mist at regular intervals.
Tip #2: Moist logs
Don’t forget to wet the logs as well.
Tip #3: Seal
Use bee’s wax or cheese wax to seal the holes after plugging the spores into your log.
It can be a little time consuming, some logs taking anywhere between 8 to 18 months to see fruit growing. If you have the time, patience and suitable space, why not try it for yourself?
Forget foraging or growing, I’ll just buy mine
If foraging isn’t your thing or you don’t live in a place that’s suited for wild Shiitake growing, then your local fresh food grocer may be more accessible.
Even when purchasing your shiitakes from a store, there are certain aspects you’ll want to take note of when selecting your produce.
Always avoid any wrinkling of the caps as this indicates a reduction in water content, common for mushrooms kept past their prime. It means they have passed their use-by date.
In fact, the finger test is another good method, often a good indicator.
Simply press your thumb or finger gently onto the cap of the mushroom. If it bounces back, then you can happily put it in your bag. If the fingerprint remains, it again means the mushroom is past its due by date.
The smell can also be a good indicator that your produce is going bad. Perfect mushrooms have an earthy odor that’s not pungent or overpowering. They should have a light-brown color and appear fresh.
If you feel slime around it, also avoid.
Dried Shiitakes should be firm, not spongy. Spongy mushrooms when dried, indicate remaining moisture, which can lead to bacteria and microorganisms growing inside them.
Always test for firmness and if hard and crunchy, you’re good to go.
That was a lot of information. Any final thoughts?
There are numerous benefits to the Shiitake mushroom that make it one of nature’s true wonders.
Although scientific research still needs to confirm a lot of the claims made by so many around the world, there’s no denying that it does produce some interesting food for thought.
If eaten simply for the wonderful taste, Shiitake provide amazing flavors with added benefits. But when using the mushroom for ailments and health conditions, the simplicity with which you acquire and prepare them cannot be denied.
Considering the amount of negative attention most of our diets receive in the media, take this small step in the right direction to make changes for the better.
The health benefits of Shiitake mushrooms aside, adding a healthy option to an otherwise ordinary meal, may mean the difference between eating another snack in between meals, or staying satisfied with the previous meal for far longer.
With such a variety of ways with which to enjoy the many benefits of Shiitakes, there really is something for everyone. From eating them in their raw form to popping a couple of capsules, imagine all the possibilities.
I know I will add some fresh Shiitake mushrooms to my own shopping trolley the next time I’m wandering around the supermarket. Will you?