Shiitake mushrooms are prized throughout the world. This brownish fungi can be found all over modern society. You’ve probably seen or bought them fresh or dried at your local grocery store!
Shiitakes are easily identifiable, with light to dark brown caps between 2 and 4 inches large, off white gills and a brown stem. Their stalk is slightly tough and their cap is rounded.
Although shiitakes are commonly eaten raw as a vegetable, there are tons of other ways to consume the nutrients of these spectacular mushrooms. From health benefits to beautifying results, shiitake mushrooms are easily one of the most popular mushrooms around the globe.
Shiitake mushrooms pop up somewhere between 1000 and 1100 C.E. in East Asia. Their name stems from the “shii” tree, similar to an oak, which they were often found growing on. Before modern cultivation existed, people would take downed logs with mushroom growth and place them next to logs with no mushroom growth and wait for the wind to spread the mushroom's spores to the bare log.
Throughout China and Japan, shiitake mushrooms were often used in traditional cooking, such as miso soup, steamed or simmered dishes, and vegetarian dashi.
Surprisingly, the cultivation of shiitakes in the United States only began in the 1980s. Since then, shiitake mushrooms have become some of the most cultivated mushrooms in the world, second only to white or button mushrooms.
How and Where Do They Grow Today?
Shiitake mushrooms grow wild in nature off fallen hardwood logs, such as shii, oak, maple, chestnut and ironwood. Although you can find shiitake mushrooms growing in Canada, the United States, Singapore and China, 83% of shiitakes produced in the world are grown in Japan.
Today, cultivating shiitake mushrooms can be a long and arduous process. Farming shiitake mushrooms often requires taking fallen logs, drilling holes into them and placing shiitake mushroom spawns in each hole. From there, each log is placed in the shade for one whole year before fruiting. Interestingly, these logs will then continue to grow mushrooms bi-annually for about 4 years and can yield up to 8 ounces with each bloom.
What Do They Taste Like?
Compared to the popular portobello and button mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms are much richer in flavor. They have a meaty texture and are known to bring a lot of umami to any dish.
When dried, their flavor only intensifies. Dried shiitakes can add depth to any dish and are often used to season stocks, soups or a number of other dishes.
As mentioned, shiitake mushrooms have been a popular food ingredient for thousands of years. Their interesting and bold flavor has been savored throughout history.
Similarly, shiitake supplements also have a long history starting in traditional Chinese medicine and expanding to Korean, Russian, Japanese, and more recently Western medicine. In Chinese medicine, taking shiitake mushroom supplements is thought to boost overall health and life span.
Shiitakes are very low in calories, are cholesterol-free, fat-free and are packed with nourishment. High in fiber, B vitamins, copper and minerals, these mushrooms bring added nutrients to any dish. They also contain many similar amino acids as meat products, which make it a great meat replacement for vegetarians.
There is some evidence that shows that shiitake mushrooms can improve heart health. Eritadenine, sterols and beta glucans, three compounds found in shiitake, have been linked to lowering cholesterol, which ultimately reduce your risk of heart disease.
Shiitake may also help boost your immune system. One of the polysaccharides, or long chain carbohydrates that ultimately increase our energy storage or cell structures, in shiitakes have been linked to immune health and improvement. Studies on mice and rats have also shown how shiitakes may be able to reverse a decline in immune function amongst the elderly.
The beautifying effects of the shiitake mushroom are also abundant. These mushrooms are widely known to help protect the skin and slow the aging process. Shiitakes reduce the activity of a natural enzyme that we produce in our body called elastase, which lessens the amount of elastin in our skin to help our skin to avoid wrinkling.
What's more, shiitakes are very high in antioxidants, which can help your body avoid cellular damage.
Like any other fruit or vegetable, the way that shiitakes are grown, kept and prepared will have a profound effect on the type of results you may see. If possible, aim to purchase shiitakes from producers you trust in order to get the most out of these fantastic fungi.
Explore the Ways Mushrooms Can Benefit You!
Adding mushroom supplements into your diet can improve your health in a number of ways. From beautifying effects to immune boosting properties, there's a reason why mushrooms have been cherished for thousands of years.