Culinary Powerhouses of Nutrition and Medicine
by Case Adams
Mushrooms have played a remarkable role in human history. Egyptian hieroglyphics dating back 4,500 years linked mushrooms to immortality. The famous 5,300-year-old “iceman” found frozen in 1991 in the Tyrolean Alps carried a sachet containing the mushroom species Piptoporus betulinus—the birch polypore. Greek writings of Hippocrates, Pliny, Dioscorides, Galen and others regarded the mushroom Fomitopsis officinalis (agarikon) as a panacea.
While enthusiasm later waned in Europe, with John Farley characterizing mushrooms in his 1784 book, The London Art of Cookery, as “treacherous gratifications,” Native American Indians used varieties such as puffballs (Calvatia and Lycoperdon species) for rheumatism, congested organs and other diseased conditions. Yet, modern-day culinary connoisseurs owe the recent surge in interest in fungal delicacies more to Japanese and Chinese traditions, which have consistently advanced mushrooms’ nutritional and medicinal uses. Ancient Chinese medical texts, including the Hanshu (82 CE) even referred to the famed reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum) as the “mushroom of immortality.”
Today, fungi cuisine in the West is typically limited to Agaracus bisporus—the relatively mild button mushroom, which matures into the acclaimed portobello. But digging deeper into available options reveals chanterelle (Cantharellus sp.), oyster (Pleurotus ostreatus), morel (Morchella sp.) and shiitake (Lentinula edodes) species. These culinary mushrooms provide a virtuosity of delicate flavors harboring nutritional and medicinal benefits according to mycologists.
University of California-Berkeley research scientist and mycologist Christopher Hobbs, Ph.D., explains that shiitake and oyster mushrooms follow the button as the most widely cultivated around the world. “They come in many colors, varieties and species and are typically the most easily digested and utilized of all mushrooms,” Hobbs explains.
“Mushrooms are an amazing health food,” says Hobbs. “Most edible fungi are high in fiber, good-quality protein, key vitamins, micronutrients, phosphorous and potassium, and low in fat and calories. It’s one of nature’s perfect diet foods.”
- As protein powerhouses, portobello and other button mushrooms, shiitake and oyster varieties all deliver between 30 and 35 percent protein by weight.
- The fiber content can range from 20 grams per 100 grams (about 3.5 ounces) in the case of portobello to a lofty 48 grams per 100 grams in the Phoenix oyster mushroom.
- Mushrooms also supply potent B vitamins. One hundred grams (about 3.5 ounces) of portobello contains more than four milligrams of riboflavin (B2), 69 milligrams niacin (B3) and 12 milligrams pantothenic acid (B5). Shiitake’s comparable numbers are three, 106 and 17 while pink oyster delivers 2.45, 66 and 33 milligrams of the three nutrients. Thus, they deliver significantly more than recommended daily allowances (RDA)—for example, niacin’s adult RDA ranges from 14 to 16 milligrams and riboflavin’s is just 1.1 to 1.3 milligrams.
- Mushrooms also present one of the few food sources of vitamin D—primarily D2, but some also contain small amounts of vitamin D3 according to U.S. Department of Agriculture research. Also, their D2 levels spike dramatically when sun-dried spore-side-up, confirmed in research by internationally recognized mycologist Paul Stamets.
- Mushrooms contain important minerals, too. Portobello contains 4,500 milligrams, oyster 4,500 milligrams and shiitake 2,700 milligrams of potassium per 100 grams, all with low sodium levels. Plus, they deliver usable amounts of copper, zinc and selenium.
- Beyond the nutrient numbers lies mushrooms’ bonus round: They contain special complex polysaccharides—long-chain molecules within cell walls that have been the subject of intense research at leading institutions around the world, including Harvard, Yale and the University of California. Mushrooms’ (1-3)-beta-glucan complexes have been shown to inhibit many cancers and suggest potential solutions for diabetes, heart disease and immune-related conditions.
Stamets explains that mushrooms also contain sterols, shown to benefit cardiovascular health. “Shiitake and other mushrooms like reishi have cholesterol-normalizing effects,” says Hobbs.
Can we take these benefits back to the kitchen? You bet. “Most mushrooms have to be cooked to release their health-giving benefits,” explains Hobbs.
Stamets concurs: “Cooking liberates mushroom nutrients from their matrix of cells. They are tenderized upon heating, making their nutrients bioavailable for digestion.”
Thankfully, finding these tasty superfood delicacies has become easier as entrepreneurial fresh-mushroom growers have emerged throughout the United States in recent years.
Case Adams is a California naturopath and author of 25 books on natural healing. Learn more at CaseAdams.com.
Mushrooms are so versatile we can eat them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. They add a note of delicious creativity to diverse dishes. Plus they deliver protein, vitamins and protective compounds. Fresh is always best and just-picked is better, although dried can work in a pinch.
~ by Cate Moss
Makes a healthy filling for tacos and enchiladas, or crumble as a topper on deluxe nachos. They taste as good as they smell, and like chili they taste almost better as leftovers.
Fills 12 large tacos, or more paired with fillings such as chopped leafy lettuce or guacamole.
1–2 cups of chopped stropharia, shiitake or maitake mushrooms
1 cup crumbled tempeh or other healthful protein source
¼ cup chopped onions
½ cup sunflower seeds or chopped almonds
¼ cup sesame seeds
1 cup corn
1 chopped sweet pepper (add hot peppers if desired)
1 small handful of chopped olives
4 shakes of soy sauce
1 Tbsp spiced hot chocolate
2 Tbsp chili powder
1 Tbsp ground cumin
¼ cup nutritional yeast
2 cloves of chopped garlic
1 cup broth or water
Sauté mushrooms, meat and onions till crispy (uncrowded in the pan). Then add remaining ingredients and braise on low heat. Allow mixture to cook down to desired consistency.
Hot & Sour Cauliflower Mushroom Soup
~ by Loni Jean Ronnebaum
This rare mushroom has a unique firmness reminiscent of noodles and can be soaked and rinsed to clean, and then cut into cauliflower-like chunks. Slow cook overnight for best results.
Yields eight servings
2-4 lb fresh cauliflower mushrooms
16 oz kimchi
½ cup peas
1 20-oz can crushed pineapple
1 32-oz vegetable broth
¼ cup egg substitute
Chili paste, black pepper, garlic powder, ginger and soy sauce to taste
Combine ingredients (except egg) in a pot and bring to a boil. Add beaten egg to the boiling soup while gently stirring. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer overnight.
~ by Andrew Lenzer
Present a perfect appetizer for dinner with friends. The savory quality of mushrooms—what the Japanese call umami—make them a welcome alternative to meat-based pâtés.
Approx. 4 cups whole fresh shiitake mushrooms (2 cups after chopping)
Approx. 4 cups whole fresh maitake mushrooms (2 cups after chopping)
12 oz rice-based cream cheese substitute
2 cloves garlic
2 cups dry roasted hazelnuts
2 sprigs parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
Finely chop the hazelnuts in a food processor and set aside.
Coarsely chop the shiitake (including the stems) and maitake mushrooms in a food processor.
Coat the surface of a wok in olive oil and sauté mushrooms in 1-cup batches over medium-high-to-high heat, adding soy sauce as needed to keep the mixture from burning, for approximately 10 minutes per batch. Add a touch of sesame oil just before removing each batch.
Place hazelnuts, mushrooms, cream cheese substitute, garlic and salt and pepper in the food processor and blend until smooth but still slightly grainy. Add parsley and blend until parsley is finely chopped and evenly distributed throughout the mixture.
Serve with crackers or fresh crusty bread.
Recipes courtesy of employees of Fungi Perfecti, LLC; photos courtesy of Paul Stamets.