Long a symbol of longevity in Asia because of their health-promoting properties, shiitake mushrooms have been used medicinally by the Chinese for more than 6,000 years. More recently, their rich, smoky flavor has endeared them to American taste buds and these exotic hearty mushrooms can now be found in supermarket shelves across the U.S. throughout the year.
Like other mushrooms, these specialty mushrooms are as mysteriously unique as they are delicious. While often thought of as a vegetable and prepared like one, mushrooms are actually a fungus, a special type of living organism that has no roots, leaves, flowers or seeds.
A symbol of longevity in Asia because of their health-promoting properties, Shiitake mushrooms have been used medicinally by the Chinese for more than 6,000 years. Now that their rich, smoky flavor has endeared them to American tastebuds, these exotic hearty mushrooms can be found in supermarket shelves across the U.S.
Invigorate Your Immune System
Recent studies have traced shiitakes’ legendary benefits to an active compound contained in these mushrooms called lentinan. Among lentinan’s healing benefits is its ability to power up the immune system, strengthening its ability to fight infection and disease. Against influenza and other viruses, lentinan has been shown to be even more effective than prescription drugs; it even improves the immune status of individuals infected with HIV, the virus that can cause AIDS.
Promote Optimal Health
Lentinan, which is technically classified as a polysaccharide and referred to as a branched beta-glucan, has also been shown to have anti-cancer activity. When lentinan was given for human gastric cancer, reticular fibers developed in tumor sites. Reticular cells, which are spread throughout the body in various tissues, are immune cells that have the ability to ingest (phagocytose) bacteria, particulate matter, and worn out or cancerous cells. When lentinan was administered, not only was there a proliferation of reticular cells in gastric tumor sites, but many T lymphocytes (another type of immune defender) were drawn to these cancer sites with the result that the cancer cell nests were fragmented and destroyed.
A Hearty Mushroom That’s Good for Your Heart
A large number of animal studies conducted over the last ten years have shown that another active component in shiitake mushrooms called eritadenine lowers cholesterol levels-and this amazing compound lowers cholesterol no matter what types of dietary fats the lab animals are given. Even when lab animals are given dietary protein rich in methionine (an amino acid researchers have found causes an increase in cholesterol formation), eritadenine still lowers plasma cholesterol levels in a dose-dependent manner. In other words, the more eritadenine given, the more cholesterol levels drop.
Shiitake Mushrooms Found to be Top Food Source of Potent Antioxidant
L-ergothioneine, a powerful antioxidant, has been discovered in mushrooms, thanks to a new analytical method capable of identifying this antioxidant in plant material. In research presented at the 2005 American Chemical Society meeting in Washington, D.C., an American research team revealed that mushrooms contain higher concentrations L-ergothioneine than either of the two dietary sources previously believed to contain the most: chicken liver and wheat germ.
Testing mushrooms consumed in the U.S., the team found that shiitake, oyster, king oyster and maitake mushrooms contain the highest amounts of ergothioneine, with up to 13 mg in a 3-ounce serving. This equals forty times as much as is found in wheat germ.
Of the most commonly consumed mushrooms, portabellas and criminis have the most L-ergothioneine, followed by white buttons. White buttons, the most popular of all mushrooms consumed in the U.S., contain up to 5 mg per three ounce serving-12 times as much as wheat germ and 4 times more than chicken liver. And more good news, L-ergothioneine is not destroyed when mushrooms are cooked.
Although numerous types of mushrooms provide wonderful tastes, textures and healthful properties, shiitake mushrooms have been recently receiving widespread attention and, as a result, are increasingly available in the marketplace.
Like other mushrooms, shiitakes are as mysteriously unique as they are delicious. While often thought of as a vegetable and prepared like one, mushrooms are actually fungi, a special type of living organism that has no roots, leaves, flowers or seeds.
Shiitake mushrooms have brown, slightly convex caps that range in diameter from about two to four inches in diameter. The scientific name for shiitake mushroom is Lentinus edodes.
Other mushrooms with Asian roots that are also becoming more popular are reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) and maitake (Grifola frondosa). Reishi mushrooms usually have an antler or rounded, fan shape; the most popular type of reishi is red in color, although that is just one of the six colors in which they grow. Maitake mushrooms grow in a formation of clustered brownish fronds of fan-shaped petals and are commonly known as “Hen of the Woods.” These types of mushrooms are available in food markets specializing in Asian foods.
Shiitake (as well as reishi and maitake) mushrooms have grown wild since prehistoric times. Their therapeutic value has been prized in Asian countries, where they originated, for thousands of years. They play a critical role in Asian medicinal traditions and were noted in some of the first books on herbal medicine written thousands of years ago. In the past few decades, these mushrooms have become more popular in the United States as a result of an expanding body of scientific research supporting their numerous health benefits. In addition to China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan, these mushrooms are currently cultivated in a host of other countries including the United States.
Shiitake mushrooms are available in many grocery stores throughout the country. If your local store does not carry fresh reishi or maitake mushrooms, investigate the Asian food stores in your area as they oftentimes carry these specialty mushrooms.
Look for mushrooms that are firm, plump and clean. Those that are wrinkled or have wet slimy spots should be avoided.
The best way to store loose shiitake, maitake or reishi mushrooms is to keep them in the refrigerator in a loosely closed paper bag. They will keep fresh for about one week. Dried mushrooms should be stored in a tightly sealed container in either the refrigerator or freezer where they will stay fresh for six months to one year.
Tips for Preparing Shiitake Mushrooms
Mushrooms are very porous, so if they are exposed to too much water they will quickly absorb it and become soggy. Therefore, the best way to clean mushrooms without sacrificing their texture and taste is to clean them using minimal, if any, water. To do this, simply wipe them with a slightly damp paper towel or kitchen cloth. You could also use a mushroom brush, available at most kitchenware stores.
If the fresh mushrooms become dried out because of being stored for too long, soak them in water for thirty minutes.
A Few Quick Serving Ideas
Shiitake mushrooms are traditionally added to miso soup.
Healthy sauté mushrooms with onions and garlic. Serve as a side dish or as a topping for chicken, beef, lamb or venison.
To give your vegetable stock an extra depth, add dried shiitake mushrooms.
For a quick and easy Asian pasta dish, healthy sauté shiitake mushrooms with snap peas and tofu. Season to taste and serve over buckwheat soba noodles (or your favorite type of pasta).
Shiitake mushrooms are an excellent source of selenium and a very good source of iron. They are also a good source of protein, dietary fiber and vitamin C.
In-Depth Nutritional Profile
In addition to the nutrients highlighted in our ratings chart, an in-depth nutritional profile for Mushrooms, shiitake is also available. This profile includes information on a full array of nutrients, including carbohydrates, sugar, soluble and insoluble fiber, sodium, vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, amino acids and more.
Introduction to Food Rating System Chart
In order to better help you identify foods that feature a high concentration of nutrients for the calories they contain, we created a Food Rating System. This system allows us to highlight the foods that are especially rich in particular nutrients. The following chart shows the nutrients for which this food is either an excellent, very good, or good source (below the chart you will find a table that explains these qualifications). If a nutrient is not listed in the chart, it does not necessarily mean that the food doesn’t contain it. It simply means that the nutrient is not provided in a sufficient amount or concentration to meet our rating criteria. (To view this food’s in-depth nutritional profile that includes values for dozens of nutrients – not just the ones rated as excellent, very good, or good – please use the link below the chart.) To read this chart accurately, you’ll need to glance up in the top left corner where you will find the name of the food and the serving size we used to calculate the food’s nutrient composition. This serving size will tell you how much of the food you need to eat to obtain the amount of nutrients found in the chart. Now, returning to the chart itself, you can look next to the nutrient name in order to find the nutrient amount it offers, the percent Daily Value (DV%) that this amount represents, the nutrient density that we calculated for this food and nutrient, and the rating we established in our rating system. For most of our nutrient ratings, we adopted the government standards for food labeling that are found in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s “Reference Values for Nutrition Labeling.” (…).
Source: The World’s Healthiest Foods (http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=122#healthbenefits)