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Shiitake Mushrooms

Why Eat It
Varieties
Availability
Shopping
Storage
Preparation
Nutrition Chart


Why Eat It

The shiitake mushroom (Lentinus edodes) has been prized by people in China, Japan, and Korea for at least 2,000 years. Valued not only for its culinary contributions, the shiitake is also consumed for its medicinal properties. One of the world's most cultivated edible mushrooms, shiitakes are a good source of nutrients and they contain eight essential amino acids as well as thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and dietary fiber and enzymes. Shiitake mushrooms also contains ergosterol, which can be converted by sunlight into vitamin D.

Ancient Chinese physicians knew the power of this dark, meaty, capped woodland mushroom and they prescribed it as an important food to activate qi, which is roughly translated as "life force." Shiitake was also promoted by ancient healers as a food that promotes longevity, protects the immune system, and as a preventative against gastrointestinal distress, liver disease, colds, flu, and circulatory problems. Scientists today are discovering that the ancient healers of China indeed knew their medicine and that shiitake may be instrumental in helping to combat a host of serious ailments including heart disease, cancer, and life-threatening viral conditions.

Of interest to scientists is a substance extracted from shiitake known as lentinan. A polysaccharide, lentinan is currently under investigation for potential anti-tumor effects, blood pressure-lowering effects, and cholesterol-lowering effects. Lentinan is currently being studied for its ability to inhibit cancer, primarily by stimulating certain types of white blood cells important in immune function rather than by directly attacking cancer cells. Shiitake extracts have been tested in recent years in Japan as an adjunct to chemotherapy, and a highly purified form of lentinan is currently used in Japan in conjunction with standard chemotherapy agents in the treatment of cancer.

Another compound in shiitake, lentinula edodes mycelium (LEM), may prove to be helpful in treating and preventing cancer, heart disease, hyperlipidemia, hypertension, infectious disease, and hepatitis. Eritadenine, another substance in shiitake, may be responsible for helping to reduce blood levels of cholesterol and fats by promoting their excretion. If you are on blood-thinning anticoagulant medication, it is important to consult with your physician before consuming large amounts of shiitake as these mushrooms may possess blood thinning properties.

Varieties

While there are no different varieties of shiitake mushrooms, they are frequently sold for different prices depending upon their size. It is not so much the size of the mushroom that determines the price, but the plumpness of the cap. Thick, plump caps are meatier in texture and somewhat more flavorful than others. This size-related price differential applies to both dried and fresh shiitakes.

Availability

Both fresh and dried shiitakes are available year-round.

Shopping

When purchasing fresh shiitakes, look for plump and dry--not withered or slimy--caps. If there are stems, they should be dry as well. The stems are too tough to eat, so don't be concerned if they have been removed.

Dried shiitakes come in different grades that sell for different prices depending upon the thickness of the caps. Large Asian markets always have different grades of dried shiitakes. When purchasing packaged mushrooms, look for mushrooms that have thick caps and appear fairly clean. Broken caps will taste fine, but their appearance will not be as nice.

Storage

Store fresh shiitake mushrooms in paper bags or perforated plastic bags. Store dried shiitake in a cool, dark place. Dried shiitakes will keep indefinitely.

Preparation

Fresh shiitake are delicious sauteed, stir-fried, marinated and grilled, or braised. To prepare shiitake for cooking, the stem should be removed (you can save the stems to use in stocks or discard them).

Sauteing or stir-frying: Slice the mushrooms and saute or stir-fry for five to seven minutes in a little oil or broth until tender.

Grilling or broiling: Marinate large whole mushroom caps in an herbed vinaigrette, or broth, place on the grill or under the broiler and cook five minutes, turning the mushrooms as they color, until soft and tender.

Braising: Heat a little broth and chopped garlic, add whole mushroom caps and either cook slowly on top of the stove or oven braise at 375°F for 10 minutes, turning the mushrooms halfway through cooking until tender. Serve with any pan juices.

Simmering: Use whole or sliced mushroom caps in soups and stews. In soups, drop mushrooms into simmering soup and cook until tender. In stews, add mushrooms when adding other vegetables and simmer until stew is done.

Reconstituting dried shiitakes: Dried shiitakes should be soaked and reconstituted before cooking. They can be soaked in either hot or cold water until rehydrated. Mushrooms take 20 minutes (in hot water) or up to two hours in cold water. Some people feel that the slower soak in cold water makes the mushrooms more tender and flavorful once cooked, however both work well. Once rehydrated, scoop the mushrooms out of their soaking liquid, leaving any dirt behind. Strain the soaking liquid through a fine-meshed sieve lined with cheesecloth or paper towels. The soaking liquid is very flavorful once cooked down. Use it in the dish you're preparing or in soups, stews, stir-fries, pasta sauces, and braises.

Nutrition Chart

Fresh Shiitakes/1 cup cooked

80
Total fat (g)
0.3
Saturated fat (g)
0.1
Monounsaturated fat (g)
0.1
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0
Dietary fiber (g)
3
2
Carbohydrate (g)
21
Cholesterol (mg)
0
Sodium (mg)
6
Riboflavin (mg)
0.3
Niacin (mg)
0.2
Vitamin B6 (mg)
0.3
Folate (mcg)
30
Pantothenic acid (mg)
5.2
Copper (mg)
1.3
Potassium (mg)
170
Selenium (mcg)
36
Zinc (mg)
1.9

Shiitakes/1 ounce dried

84
Total fat (g)
0.3
Saturated fat (g)
0.1
Monounsaturated fat (g)
0.1
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0
Dietary fiber (g)
3.3
3
Carbohydrate (g)
21
Cholesterol (mg)
0
Sodium (mg)
4
Riboflavin (mg)
0.4
Niacin (mg)
4
Vitamin B6 (mg)
0.3
Folate (mcg)
46
Pantothenic acid (mg)
6.2
Copper (mg)
1.5
Potassium (mg)
435
Selenium (mcg)
39
Zinc (mg)
2.2


Date Published: 04/21/2005
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