Saturday, February 4, 2012

Ingredient of the Day: Shiitake Mushrooms

Falling in love is like eating mushrooms, you never know if it's the real thing until it's too late. – Bill Balance

Fresh shiitake mushrooms. Photo: Building Blocks Show, Flickr ccl
I realized yesterday in writing my post that I haven’t talked about shiitake mushrooms. They’re in my cupboard, I grab what I need, and forget about them. That is a real oversight, as shiitake mushrooms have the potential to be recognized as a super food.

Shiitake mushrooms have been used both culinarily and medicinally in Asia for many thousands of years. Much more recently their delicious taste has begun to enter the consciousness of North American consumers and they have become far more common to acquire. 

Dried shiitake (sometimes called "Chinese mushrooms") are
far cheaper than fresh and readily available at Asian groceries.
Photo: k.segars, Flickr ccl
These exotic mushrooms are now readily available at better grocery stores all year long. Sadly they are a little on the pricey side when purchased fresh. 

Dried shiitake are a different story all together. They’re very affordable in comparison. Dried are commonly available in Asian groceries, where they are considered a staple.

Shiitake mushrooms are fungi, an organism that has no roots, leaves, flowers or seeds. They mushrooms have brown, slightly rounded caps that range from about two to four inches wide and a stem that can range from an inch to 4 or 5.

The common name , "shiitake," is Japanese in origin. "Shii" refers to a type of wood on which shiitake mushrooms naturally grow. "Take" means "mushroom." Hence shii-take...

Reconstituting shiitake mushrooms in hot water. Don't throw
out the liquid. Use it! Photo: kattebelletje, Flickr ccl
Shiitake mushrooms have grown wild since before recorded history. Their therapeutic and medicinal value has been known in Asia for thousands of years. Shiitake mushrooms are important in Asian medicinal traditions and were described thousands of years ago in some of the first books on herbal medicine.

Medicinal Benefits
Immune Support
Shiitakes are fascinating in their effect on our immune systems because they seem to “regulate” our body’s immune responses. Studies have shown they have the ability help prevent excessive immune system activity in some cases. On the other hand studies have shown they help stimulate immune system responses when needed (under certain circumstances). Strange, eh?

Cardiovascular Benefits
Cardiovascular benefits are in three basic areas. The first of these is cholesterol reduction. The second is in protection against cardiovascular diseases (including atherosclerosis). The third area is in antioxidant support.

Anti-Cancer Benefits
Based on preliminary research, adding shiitake mushrooms to your diet is likely to offer anti-cancer benefits, especially with regard to prostate, breast and colon cancers. A certain type of cells (called macrophage cells), are responsible for identifying and getting rid of potentially cancerous cells from the body. Research shows shiitake mushrooms are able to help these macrophage cells activate and do their job. 

Nutrients in Shiitake

Non-animal Source of Iron
Vegetarians take heart! Shiitake mushrooms have long been recognized as an excellent, non-animal based source of iron. A recent preliminary study also found the iron in dried shiitake mushroom was equally as bio-available (able to be used by the body) as ferrous gluconate iron supplement. Ferrous gluconate is a very commonly used low-dose iron supplement. 

Sustainable Crop
While the majority of shiitake mushrooms produced worldwide have been grown on sawdust block in a non-natural setting, some are being produced on natural hardwood logs in a forest setting as if they were growing wild. This is called "forest farming" and it has become an especially popular way of growing shiitake mushrooms in the U.S, where there are now more than 200 shiitake mushroom growers.

Could you imagine if all of our food was grown in sustainable ways? What a different world we would live in! You can do your bit by making smart choices, and supporting local growers who grow in responsible ways. It will help us all in the long run.


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