An expensive mushroom that originated in Japan, but is now grown in the U.S. Sometimes called “golden oak,” this tasty, dark brown mushroom has a meaty flesh and a full-bodied flavor.
Shiitake mushrooms have brown, slightly convex caps that range in diameter from about two to four inches in diameter. They belong to the basidiomycete family of fungi. Until the early 1990’s, they were widely known by their scientific genus-species name of Lentinus edodes. However, during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s this genus-species name for shiitake mushrooms was largely phased out and replaced by a new genus-species name, Lentinula edodes.
The common name for this mushroom, “shiitake,” comes from the Japanese language. “Shii” in Japanese refers to wood belonging to the Pasania species of tree on which shiitake mushrooms naturally grow. “Take” simply translates as “mushroom.” You may sometimes also hear shiitake mushroom being referred to as the “Black Forest mushroom,” and they do indeed grow naturally in that German mountain range.
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. The U.S. is currently home to approximately 200 commercial growers of shiitake mushrooms, and nearly half of those growers use forest farming to produce shiitake mushrooms in a natural forest setting using downed hardwood trees as the cultivation medium.
Although Japan was at one time the world’s largest producer of shiitake mushrooms, that distinction now goes to China, which produces over 80% of all commercially sold shiitake mushrooms. Japan, Korea and Taiwan also produce shiitake mushrooms, as does the United States. One quickly growing market for shiitake mushrooms is Brazil, which currently produces more shiitake mushrooms than any other South American country.
How to Select and Store
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 mushrooms (as well as 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.
How to Enjoy
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.
Healthiest Way of Cooking Shiitake Mushrooms
We recommend sautéeing shiitake mushrooms for maximum flavor and nutrition. Heat 3 TBS of broth over medium heat in a stainless steel skilled. When broth begins to steam add sliced mushrooms and sauté for 7 minutes. It is best to stir constantly for the last 4 minutes of cooking. Toss with dressing and your favorite optional ingredients.
A Few Quick Serving Ideas
- Shiitake mushrooms are traditionally added to miso soup.
- Healthy saute 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 saute shiitake mushrooms with snap peas and tofu. Season to taste and serve over buckwheat soba noodles (or your favorite type of pasta).
Season: available year-round
How to prepare: bake, saute, steam, fry
Matches well with: butter, cabbage, chicken, cream, eggplant, fish, game, garlic, olive oil, parsley, shallots
Notes: Shiitake mushrooms contain naturally-occurring substances called purines. Purines are commonly found in plants, animals, and humans. In some individuals who are susceptible to purine-related problems, excessive intake of these substances can cause health problems. Since purines can be broken down to form uric acid, excess accumulation of purines in the body can lead to excess accumulation of uric acid. The health condition called “gout” and the formation of kidney stones from uric acid are two examples of uric acid-related problems that can be related to excessive intake of purine-containing foods. For this reason, individuals with kidney problems or gout may want to limit or avoid intake of purine-containing foods such as shiitake mushrooms. Other mushrooms and asparagus, shellfish and other foods also contain high volume of purines.