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Cathy's Lab: Shiitake the other white meat.

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Cathy's Lab - a slice of science pie for the mushroom minded

- Cathy Scott is Chief Science Officer at Everything Mushrooms; she handles all the mycelium! Cathy is also a tremendous cook and dedicated fungal fanatic. This little slice of our web space is dedicated to Cathy's experiments, recipies, and mushroom musings. Be sure to check this page regularly for updates on some of the exciting things happening "behind the scenes" in Cathy's Lab at Everything Mushrooms.


Have you ever noticed how mushroom gravy can actually make a meat dish taste more meaty? The meaty flavor of shiitake comes from large amount of glutamic acid, which is a key flavor in meat. The glutamate in shiitake is also a natural version of the flavor enhancer monosodium glutamate. The natural glutamate in shiitake can boost the flavor in a dish without added sodium. Glutamate imparts the 5 th taste, known in Japan as umami, a hard to describe subtle savory essence. Nonetheless it can add an important layer of flavor to your cuisine creations. Like meat, shiitake can complement a range of dishes from light salads to heavy gravies, tomato or dairy based sauces. They also have a dense flesh and intense flavor so they can stand up to long cooking in pasta, soups or stews. Of course they are also a natural ingredient to use in stir-fries and other Asian dishes.

In addition to being tasty, shiitake are an ideal health and weight loss food. The protein and soluble dietary fiber content will keep you feeling satisfied. They also contain only small amounts of fats and no sugars or cholesterol, which means shiitake will not increase your body’s production of HDL/LDL cholesterol or insulin. Shiitakes are one of the few natural vegetable sources rich in vitamin D, additionally they contain vitamins B, C and niacin. They also contain many minerals including potassium, copper, selenium, and all of the essential amino acids.

Bioactive compounds found in edible mushrooms are stimulating a great deal scientific research for use as medicinal extracts and functional foods. Fungi have been well known and employed for their antibiotic properties for decades. Recent research shows that shiitake exhibit antibacterial and anti-viral effects (Vetvicka 2011). In addition studies have shown that shiitake can enhance the immune system and have demonstrated efficacy in treating diseases as diverse as AIDS (Bisen, Baghel et al. 2010) and cancer (Shin, Kim et al. 2010; Chen, Zhang et al. 2013; Ina, Kataoka et al. 2013). Shiitake compounds identified that inhibit blood aggregation and reduce cholesterol levels, may someday be useful in treating heart disease (Rop, Mlcek et al. 2009). As if this isn’t amazing enough, shiitakes have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties (Meenakshi 2008). Inflammation is the root cause of many of our aches and pains, ranging from sore throats to pulled muscles. It is also a well-known contributing factor to many age-related chronic diseases. One of the safest possible strategies to suppress long and short-term inflammation is the employment of foods with anti-inflammatory properties like shiitake. Here in the West we are just beginning to understand the power of mushrooms, unlike Asians who have used shiitake as medicinal treatments for thousands of years.

Shiitakes are one of the easiest mushrooms to grow, increasingly allowing small farms to provide fresh shiitake mushrooms to local markets. Fresh mushrooms will shrink during cooking so buy a little extra. You can also easily  grow your own shiitakes outside on logs, or indoors on kits we sell at Everything Mushrooms. Store fresh mushrooms in the refrigerator in a paper bag, but never use plastic.Shiitakes grow on wood substrates that aren’t very tasty so be sure to remove all of the stems and brush off any sawdust, there is no need to soak.

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If you can’t find fresh,  dried shiitake are delicious also. Reconstitute dried mushrooms in hot water before processing and cooking as you would fresh mushrooms. As an extra bonus you get mushroom broth, which is a great addition to soup or stock.

Shiitakes can be sautéed, marinated, grilled, battered and deep-fried, broiled, roasted, boiled, simmered, a flavor-filler for meatballs, added to sauces, gravies and stuffing or stuffed themselves. For the non-mushroom lovers try marinating them in soy sauce and red wine and roasting, or processing into a shiitake paté. You can fool people into thinking they are meat. The next time you are planning a vegetarian meal I hope you try using shiitake mushrooms as a “protein substitute” for meat!

**Shiitake mushrooms should be cooked before eating; some individuals have rare but serious allergic reaction to uncooked shiitake mushrooms.**

Bisen, P. S., R. K. Baghel, et al. (2010). "Lentinus edodes: A Macrofungus with Pharmacological Activities." Current Medicinal Chemistry 17(22): 2419-2430.

Chen, J. Z., X. D. Zhang, et al. (2013). "The Application of Fungal Beta-glucans for the Treatment of Colon Cancer." Anticancer Agents Med Chem 13(5): 725-730.

Ina, K., T. Kataoka, et al. (2013). "The Use of Lentinan for Treating Gastric Cancer." Anticancer Agents Med Chem 13(5): 681-688.

Meenakshi, M. (2008). "Bioactivities of some medicinal mushrooms: a modern perspective." Journal of Mycopathological Research 46(1): 13-21.

Rop, O., J. Mlcek, et al. (2009). "Beta-glucans in higher fungi and their health effects." Nutrition Reviews 67(11): 624-631.

Shin, A., J. Kim, et al. (2010). "Dietary Mushroom Intake and the Risk of Breast Cancer Based on Hormone Receptor Status." Nutrition and Cancer-an International Journal 62(4): 476-483.

Vetvicka, V. (2011). "Glucan-immunostimulant, adjuvant, potential drug." World journal of clinical oncology 2(2): 115-119.