For thousands of years, shiitake mushrooms have been gracing the shelves of traditional Chinese medicine practitioners’ homes. For good reason—these fungi have been renowned throughout history for their potent health benefits. So nutritious they are considered a medicine in some parts of the world. Shiitake have seen a recent rise in popularity in the United States. Their smoky, rich flavor has tickled the fancy of many, and now shiitake mushrooms are widely available throughout the year. Although Japan used to be the primary growing ground for these mushrooms, that prestige has now passed to China.
But what makes shiitake mushrooms so great? (Besides their flavor, which is pretty wonderful all by itself.) The true value of these mushrooms comes from the uncommon—but extremely important—nutrients they contain.
Why Are Shiitake Mushrooms Good for You?
- They contain ergothioneine, a very rare amino acid that, until recently, scientists didn’t even know existed. Following a series of studies, researchers have found that this amino acid is a very effective protectant against oxidative stress. This is one of the most damaging degenerative processes in our bodies. That’s one great reason to love shiitake!
- Shiitake helps our bodies use fat the way we should, which not only keeps us trim but also keeps all that extra stress off. Lean muscle mass (instead of fat) encourages healthy cardiovascular and circulatory systems.
- These mushrooms contain a whole host of vital nutrients, some of which are difficult to get: d-Eritadenine, which promotes cardiovascular health; copper, which prevents oxidation and helps out your red blood cells; and selenium, which normalizes thyroid function, are just a few of the many nutritional benefits.
So shiitake mushrooms are definitely the way to go when it comes to adding something tasty and nutrient-dense to your plate. That’s great. But how do you do it? Mushrooms can be tossed into a variety of soups, salads, and other dishes, but bringing home the best shrooms is where the magic really starts.
How Do You Choose Good Shiitake Mushrooms?
- Try regular grocery stores, as most have them, but if you’re having a hard time finding these fungi, check out a local Asian food store. They tend to always keep them in stock.
- Firm, plump mushrooms are the best choice. Wrinkled or soggy/slimy mushrooms are going bad, so avoid those.
- Opt for mushrooms that have been stored in a fridge, if possible. They stay fresh for about a week (unless they’ve been dried, in which case they should be good to go for at least six months).
After you’ve chosen your perfect shiitakes, make sure not to clean them off by soaking them in water. Mushrooms are porous and will become soggy if you expose them to too much liquid. The best way to clean shiitake mushrooms is simply to wipe them while dry. Once they’re clean and ready to go, you’re one step closer to taking a bite of a tasty (and nutritious!) mushroom feast.