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Shiitake Mushrooms — Everything You Need to Know

Shiitake Mushrooms

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Until recently, many people considered the savory and versatile Shiitake mushrooms to be an exotic and hard-to-find ingredient.  Now, of all edible mushrooms, Shiitake is the second most purchased in the United States. Only the White Button mushroom is more popular.

While pricier than button mushrooms, Shiitake mushrooms have far more flavor than white buttons.  Shiitake mushrooms are renowned for their smoky flavor and meaty texture, adding substance and taste to any dish.

Dried Shiitake Mushrooms

Research shows that Shiitake mushrooms may also have significant health benefits.

Read on to learn all about Shiitake mushrooms.

Where do Shiitake Mushrooms Grow?

Shiitake mushrooms are native to East Asia.  Japan was once the top producer, but China overtook the market a few years ago and now produces roughly 80% of Shiitake mushrooms sold worldwide.  Singapore, the United States, and Canada also produce notable quantities.

Shiitake mushrooms grow naturally on decaying hardwood trees. As these fungi became popular, businesses started to ‘forest farm’ Shiitake on hardwood logs.

Unfortunately, this does not always produce a healthy mushroom, as farmers use chemicals to enhance growth.  Look for a “certified organic” symbol when you buy Shiitake to be sure you are purchasing chemical-free mushrooms.

When you buy any mushroom, check they are firm, not slimy or wrinkled, as these are signs of age.

Health Benefits of Shiitake

Traditional Asian medicine is now becoming recognized for its foresight. Shiitake Mushrooms were an essential part of traditional Asian medicine for thousands of years. Today Shiitake is still used in Asia, both for its taste and its medicinal properties.

All About Shiitakes

Research indicates the following possible health benefits for Shiitake mushrooms.

  • General – Shiitake mushrooms contain significant amounts of Riboflavin; Niacin; Vitamin B5 and B6; Vitamin D, and many other essential vitamins and minerals. They also include all eight of the amino acids that are essential to our bodies, making this fungus unique.
  • Cancer – Shiitake mushrooms contain Lentinan, (hence their botanical name of Lentinula Edodes), a potent protein that may reduce cancer risk. The “Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine” published a study indicating that Lentinan slowed the growth of small tumors.
  • Heart – Studies indicate that Shiitake mushrooms may increase heart health and even prevent heart disease.
  • Antioxidants – Studies show that the spores this fungus contains have compounds that may have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities.
  • High Blood Pressure – Tests on rats show that Shiitake may lower blood pressure.
  • Cholesterol – In clinical tests, rats eating Shiitake mushrooms had less fatty livers and lower cholesterol than those not eating the fungus.
  • Obesity – Studies regarding this fungus and excess weight are promising.

How to use Shiitake Mushrooms

You can cook Shiitake like you would any mushroom.  Some suggestions would be to sautée them, use them in a stir-fry, an omelet, quiche, or a soup.  You could also serve them as a side dish.  Shiitake are said to retain the most flavor when lightly sautéed, although you can cook them any way you wish, as their earthy taste will shine through no matter what cooking method you use.

All About Shiitakes

When you prepare Shiitake, you should remove the stems, as they are too woody to eat in most dishes.  You can, however, add the stems to soups and other dishes where they will cook for a long time.

Recipe: Fake Bruschetta

Here is a quick, easy, and delicious recipe using Shiitake Mushrooms.

  • Slice up a baguette and toast or bake the slices until crisp. If you toast the slices in the oven, be sure to toast both sides, just as you would for normal bruschetta.
  • Slice or chop, then sauté Shiitake mushrooms in butter.
  • Cover the bread with your favorite soft cheese (brie, gorgonzola, stilton, and goat’s cheese are all tasty choices).
  • Top the cheese with the sautéed Shiitake mushrooms.

You can add to this quick snack, or party nibble, by adding toasted pine nuts or asparagus.

Extracts and Supplements

You can also take Shiitake as an extract or a supplement. You can buy Shiitake dried, in powder form, capsules, tea, or tincture.

Shiitake Extract Powder

Extract powder is an easy way to integrate Shiitake into your daily diet.  It’s particularly good in tea, coffee, and smoothies.

My favorite powder is Naturealm’s Sacred 7 Mushroom Extract Powder.  It contains Shiitake along with seven other mushrooms, including Reishi and Chaga.  I take it in my smoothies and like its taste.

If you’re looking for a Shiitake only powder, I have had good luck with VitaJing’s Organic Shiitake Mushroom Extract, which comes at a 20:1 concentration.

Shiitake Tincture

If you find that you don’t like the taste of Shiitake extract powder, then tinctures are a good alternative.  I like Life Cykel’s Shiitake Mushroom Extract with WIld harvested Kakadu Plum Extract.

Shiitake Capsules

I recommend Aloha’s Medicinals Pure Shiitake Capsules, 100 % organic and made in America.

RealMushrooms 5 Defenders capsules include extract powder from five different mushrooms; Reishi, Chaga, Maitake, Turkey Tail and Shiitake. They are pricy but are a good choice if you would like to get the benefit of all of these mushrooms.

How to Grow Shiitake Mushrooms

Shiitake mushrooms grow naturally on hardwood trees, especially oaks.  For this reason, Shiitake growers usually grow their mushrooms using oak logs.

The concept is simple: get an oak log, and drill holes about one inch apart from each other.  You can go all around the log as the log will be standing or leaning against something when the mushrooms are growing.

Then you put Shiitake mushroom spawn into the holes and seal with melted wax so no other fungus can attack your Shiitake.

Rest the log slightly, leaning it on something, (a stone, brick or piece of wood), and leave outside.  Keep the log wet by spraying it with water frequently during dry seasons.

Shiitake Mushrooms Growing on an Oak Log

Sometimes Shiitake produce ‘fruit ‘on their own, but if this does not happen, you will need to give them a shock. You can do this by submerging the log in cold water and leaving overnight, then moving it to a shady area and leaving it standing upright, or nearly upright until it fruits.

Where natural fruiting occurs, it usually takes about six months, but if you are going to shock them, it is better to wait at least nine months as the mushrooms will take more time to grow to full size.

Shiitake Mushroom Grow Kits

There are many shiitake mushroom grow kits available, and they make the process much easier.

In many cases, you will have to supply the oak log and drill the holes.  The kit will include plugs that you can insert into the holes, and wax that you can seal the holes with.

2 Fun Guys Shiitake Mushroom Log Kit

2 Fun Guys Shiitake Mushroom Log Kit comes with a 12-inch oak log with the holes already drilled and the mushrooms plugs already inserted.  All you have to do is stand it up somewhere outside and keep it moist.  Be sure to follow the instructions closely: many customer reviews indicate that customers expected the mushrooms to grow right away, but it will generally take several months before mushrooms appear.

How to Store Shiitake Mushrooms

You can store your Shiitakes like many other mushrooms. They will stay fresh for a week or so in a paper bag in the refrigerator. They can also be frozen, dried, or bottled in oil.

Shiitake can be frozen raw, (just slice or chop them first for ease of use), or lightly sautéed before freezing. Some mushroom experts believe freezing brings out more flavor, so you might want to give this a try.

You can put them in a food dehydrator or the oven to have dried Shiitake mushrooms available any time you want to use them. Sun-drying increases their nutritional value if the climate permits.  For a detailed explanation of how to do dry Shiitake mushrooms, see my article, How to Dry Mushrooms, A Complete Guide.

To Sum Up

Shiitake are delicious.  They offer great taste and many health benefits. They take time to grow, but the process isn’t complicated.  If you haven’t already, why not give this mushroom a try?  And if you have, then why not try growing them?

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