The flavorful and versatile shiitake mushroom is native to East Asia but is now cultivated and enjoyed by mushroom lovers all over the world. It is one of the most popular gourmet mushrooms and is one of the most cultivated mushrooms in the world, second only to the white button mushroom.
The shiitake mushroom is a coveted ingredient in many Asian cuisines, but it is also used as a medicinal mushroom, packing incredible health benefits such as boosting the immune system, supporting heart health, and even containing compounds that help fight cancer.
While raw shiitake mushrooms taste bitter and smell quite pungent, they have a savory flavor and a rich, meaty texture when cooked. They add a unique umami flavor to stir fries and are unrivaled in soups.
The rest of this article will tell you everything you need to know about the incredible shiitake mushroom, including where it grows, foraging season, and how to include it in some of your favorite recipes.
Fast Facts About Shiitake Mushrooms
- 83% of the world’s shiitake mushrooms are grown in Japan. China, the United States, Canada, and Singapore, other nations that cultivate them.
- In English, shiitake mushrooms are usually called “black forest mushrooms” or “Chinese black mushrooms.” However, their common name, shiitake mushroom, is a Japanese word meaning “shii mushroom,” which refers to the type of evergreen tree upon which the fungus is commonly found.
- Shiitake mushrooms are a great addition to vegetarian diets, as they contain many of the same amino acids as meat. They add a splash of umami to stir fries, soups, as side dishes, and many other dishes.
- Continuing medical research has found that shiitake mushrooms contain compounds that fight against cancer and inflammation.
- Dried shiitake mushrooms taste more potent than fresh ones and are the most popular form since fresh shiitake mushrooms are not available around the globe.
- The shiitake mushroom has been used in traditional Asian medicine for at least a thousand years.
How do I Identify Shiitake Mushrooms?
Shiitake mushrooms are saprobic, meaning they feed on dead or dying organic matter. They can be found growing on or near the bases of broadleaved and hardwood trees, such as oak, beech, or shii, or on fallen logs.
The stems of these mushrooms are usually white, with the caps’ coloring being either tan, golden brown, dark brown, or black. Most have white or cream-colored spots near the edges of the caps. Younger mushrooms are darker and glossier in color and grow lighter with age.
The large caps are umbrella-shaped and usually measure between 2 and 4 inches in diameter. Near the edges of the caps are usually white or cream-colored spots.
The firm stems range in color between white and tan and have a smooth texture. Some have a ring around the top, near the gills. If the stem is damaged in any way, it will bruise a darker brown.
The prominent gills are found on the underside of the cap and don’t attach to the stem.
Shiitake mushrooms have a firm texture with a smooth cap and stem. Younger mushrooms have a smoother cap than older ones. The cap can sometimes have a feathery texture due to the white spots. Their insides are firm and don’t absorb much moisture.
The shiitake mushroom has a white spore print.
Shiitake mushrooms fruit beginning in the spring to late summer or early fall.
Shiitake mushrooms grow best in colder climates and won’t grow in temperatures exceeding 64 degrees. The optimal temperature in which shiitake mushrooms is between 56 – 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
They are native to the mountainous regions in East Asia, specifically Japan, where they are both cultivated and grow in the wild.
Are There Any Shiitake Mushroom Lookalikes?
This poisonous mushroom is the one that most resembles shiitake. Because it looks so similar to the edible shiitake, a spore print is the most reliable way to distinguish the two fungi. Galerina will have a dark brown spore print, while a shiitake’s spore print is white.
While this mushroom has the same shape and colors as the shiitake, it has a ring near the top of the stem close to the gills (called the annulus) with a jagged edge. Stropharia also has dark gills on the underside of its umbrella-shaped cap, while shiitake gills are white.
Where can I Find Shiitake Mushrooms?
Shiitake mushrooms are native to east Asia and have been found growing in the wild in Japan, China, and Korea. However, it is widely cultivated throughout the world, meaning that you’ll likely find fresh shiitakes or dried shiitake mushrooms wherever you live.
Unlike fungi that grow in individual sprouts, they grow in large clusters, such as the morel or cauliflower mushroom. Their growing season starts in the spring and ends around the beginning of fall.
What are the Health Benefits of Shiitake Mushrooms?
Calories (in 4 dried shiitake mushrooms): 44
Carbs: 11 grams
Fiber: 2 grams
Protein: 1 gram
Vitamin B5: 33% of the daily value (DV)
Vitamin B6: 7% of DV
Vitamin D: 6% of DV
One of the most important aspects of shiitake mushrooms regarding heart health is that it contains no saturated fat. It also contains eritadenine, sterols, and beta glucans – three compounds that have been proven to help lower cholesterol.
In a 1987 study conducted in lab rats by a Tokyo university found that shiitake powder may even help prevent high blood pressure.
The polysaccharides in shiitake mushrooms, especially the polysaccharide lentinan, helps to inhibit the spread and growth of leukemia cells. In addition, when combined with chemotherapy, Lentinan has been proven to help boost the immune response in cancer patients – especially in those with leukemia and stomach cancer.
Lentinan is administered through intravenous injection as part of standard cancer care in China and Japan.
Immune System Support
Certain polysaccharides in shiitakes help boost the immune system and decrease inflammation. The fungus is also believed to help reverse age-related decline in immune function, but further research is needed before forming any definite conclusions.
Shiitake mushrooms are one of the very few plants that contain Vitamin D, which is vital for bone health. In fact, scientists argue that it is the only plant in which Vitamin D naturally occurs.
The amount of Vitamin D in the shiitake mushrooms depends upon how much sunlight the mushrooms were exposed to during the cultivation process.
How Do I Cook Shiitake Mushrooms?
Important note: as with most edible mushrooms cook shiitake mushrooms thoroughly before eating. Eating raw shiitake mushrooms can cause severe gastrointestinal distress and swelling of the skin.
Cleaning shiitake mushrooms usually consists of a quick rinse in cold water. After rinsing, lay the mushrooms on a damp paper towel to dry.
When preparing to cook shiitake mushrooms, remove the stems with a paring knife before slicing the caps lengthwise into strips.
If using dried mushrooms and fresh are better for the recipe, this fungus is easy to reconstitute.
To reconstitute: place the dried shiitakes in a bowl of water and cover with a cloth or plate. Place overnight in the fridge for approximately 8 hours. You’ll know when they’re done when they appear plump and fresh.
This fungus is a versatile ingredient in many recipes. In Japan, it is very popular in soups, especially miso soup. Shiitakes can be roasted whole with garlic and olive oil as a side dish or with lime juice in pasta, or you can use sesame oil and soy sauce in many Asian recipes to stay true to the shiitake’s native land.
The possibilities are endless!
Shiitake Stir Fry Recipe
For this recipe, you will need:
- soy sauce (3 tablespoons)
- vegetable stock (1/2 cup)
- cornstarch (1 teaspoon)
- sesame oil (2 tablespoons)
- shiitake mushrooms, sliced (1/2 pound)
- 1 red bell pepper (thinly sliced)
- fresh minced ginger (1 tablespoon)
- garlic (1 clove, minced)
- 1 large carrot, grated
- Snow peas or sugar snap peas (1 cup)
- 2 green onions (chopped)
- cooked brown rice (2 cups)
Step 1: Wisk together soy sauce, vegetable stock, and cornstarch. Set aside.
Step 2: Heat sesame oil in a large skillet (or wok) over medium heat.
Step 3: Add mushrooms, bell peppers, ginger, and garlic. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring constantly.
Step 4: Add carrots, green onions, and snap/snow peas. Cook for about 2 more minutes, stirring constantly.
Step 5: Stir in the sauce mixture and cook for 2 more minutes, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens.
Step 6: Serve over brown rice.
Alternately, you can add lime juice for some extra flavor. Finally, experiment with a fresh variety of vegetables and add to those specified on this list.
You can even add dried shiitake mushrooms to rice to make a delicious risotto when cooking the rice.
How Do I Store Shiitake Mushrooms?
You can store fresh shiitake mushrooms in the refrigerator for up to 14 days in a paper bag. However, don’t store them in airtight containers or plastic bags, as this will cause them to decompose quickly and turn slimy.
Dried shiitakes must be stored in an airtight container, like a glass jar or sealed bag, in a dry, dark place.