Translated from Japanese, "shii" refers to the tree on which these mushrooms originally grew, while "také" simply means mushroom. These little beauties are venerated not just because of their primordial origin, but because of the many health-boosting properties they contain, discovered over centuries of ancient medicine.
Having no roots, leaves, blossoms, or seeds, shiitake mushrooms fall into a special category: fungus. Famous for their rich texture and smoky flavor, they're the second most commonly cultivated edible mushrooms, readily available on market shelves worldwide. Compared with white button mushrooms, shiitakes are purported to have more than 10 times the flavor. This can intensify when they're dried and reconstituted by soaking in water.
Although they still grow wild, China yields around 80% of the world market in production, although Japan held this distinction initially. Today, more than 200 growers in the U.S. utilize the labor-intensive but superior "forest farming" method to produce shiitake mushrooms on hardwood logs. "Grow-at-home" kits prepared by mushroom specialty companies also maintain a lively business.
Overseas, where oversight is limited, shiitake mushrooms are sometimes mass cultivated on sawdust blocks, using pesticides and fungicides that compromise the quality and safety of the finished product. Between forest-farmed shiitakes and the "mock-up" variety, the difference can range between $4 and $40 per pound, depending on the market. So when purchasing, look for the "certified organic" logo on the label to ensure you're getting the real deal.
When purchasing, shiitakes should be firm, not moist or wrinkled. Keep them refrigerated in a paper bag for up to a week. Just before use, wipe them with a clean, damp cloth to prevent sogginess. Dried, they keep in the freezer for up to a year. Sautéing shiitake mushrooms gently is the best cooking method to keep the good stuff good, both taste-wise and nutritionally.
Health Benefits of Shiitake Mushrooms
Comparing the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytonutrients between foods, shiitake mushrooms are completely unique. Copper figures most prominently, with 65% of the daily value per serving, significant because copper is one of the few metallic elements accompanied by amino and fatty acids, essential to human health. Linoleic acid is one. Since the body can't synthesize copper, our diets must supply it regularly. But researchers say that not only do few people eat adequate amounts of copper-containing foods, but copper deficiency can also be a factor in coronary heart disease development.
Right behind copper is pantothenic acid and selenium, which provide 52% and 51% of the daily value, respectively. Riboflavin, niacin, zinc, and manganese play supportive roles, along with ergothioniene, an antioxidant that inhibits oxidative stress.
Shiitake mushrooms also contain strong compounds having the natural ability to discourage inflammation, tumors, "bad" bacteria, harmful viruses, and, ironically, fungus. B vitamins such as B2, B5 and B6 are part of the package, providing energy by breaking down fats, carbs, and proteins.
Shiitake Nutrition Facts
Serving Size: 3.5 ounces (100 grams), dried
|Calories from Fat
*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie
Studies on Shiitake Mushrooms
Lentinan, a potent antifungal protein in shiitake mushrooms, was found to have cancer-preventing properties. One study resulted in slower development of smaller tumors after oral treatment with lentinan.1 It also exhibited a reduction in the negative effects in the progression of HIV and ability of leukemia cells to proliferate.2
Another study found that the spores (mycelia) of shiitake mushrooms can have protective abilities on the liver, suppress inflammation, and even have cancer-preventive properties for patients with chronic hepatitis.3
Shiitake Mushroom Healthy Recipes:
Chicken with Crimini and Shiitake Mushrooms
|8 skinless and boneless organic chicken thighs or breast
||Salt and pepper, to taste
||6 teaspoons chopped marjoram, divided
||2 tablespoons coconut oil, divided
|2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
||12 ounces crimini and shiitake mushrooms, thickly sliced
||1 cup onion, chopped finely
||¾ cup chicken broth
|½ cup organic raw whipping cream
||3 tablespoons dry sherry/marsala (optional)
- Season chicken with salt and pepper, and add 2 teaspoons marjoram. Melt 1 tablespoon coconut oil with 1 tablespoon olive oil in large pan over moderate to high heat.
- Add chicken to pan and sauté until just cooked through, about 7 minutes per side. Transfer chicken to plate; cover with lid to keep warm.
- Melt remaining tablespoon of coconut oil with 1 tablespoon of olive oil in same pan. Add mushrooms, onions, and 2 teaspoons marjoram. Sauté until mushrooms are brown and tender, about 6 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to bowl.
- Combine broth, cream and sherry (if using) and remaining 2 teaspoons marjoram in same pan, boil until thickened and reduced to ½ cup, about 5 minutes. Season sauce with salt and pepper.
- Divide mushrooms among four plates. Top mushrooms with chicken. Spoon sauce over and serve.
This recipe makes four servings.
(From Healthy Recipes for Your Nutritional Type by Dr. Mercola)
Shiitake Mushrooms Fun Facts
Shiitake mushrooms still grow wild in mountainous regions of Asia, but nowhere in the United States or anywhere else. Scientists have discovered a possible correlation between typhoon wind patterns and the scattering of shiitake spores dispersed from one country to the other.
It's no secret that shiitake mushrooms are one of the healthiest foods on the planet, used extensively in ancient Chinese medicine. Scientists have now proven that shiitake mushrooms offer antiviral, cholesterol-lowering and cardiovascular support, and amazingly, properties in just the right amounts to augment the immune system, revving it up or leveling it off where needed. Immune cells called macrophage, for instance, are responsible for identifying and removing potentially cancerous cells from the body, including colon cancer cells; enzymes called cytochrome are known to metabolize carcinogens in the body.
At the same time, shiitakes enjoy gourmet status in the culinary world, which is why they're carefully produced through the labor-intensive method of forest farming. Sliced and sautéed with butter and parsley, they release a tantalizing flavor unknown to other foods.