Culinary Mushrooms for Your Health
Think mushrooms always have to be boring and yucky? Think again! They may be plain and easy to overlook next to colorful produce in the grocery store, but this nutrient-packed fungus contains many beneficial vitamins and minerals. Mushrooms are low-calorie, versatile to cook and easy to flavor up with seasoning or marinade. They can be prepared in creative ways beyond just sauteeing them in a pan – think mushroom burgers, mushroom fajitas, mushroom steak, stuffed mushrooms, the list goes on. Some mushroom varieties have more flavor than others.
Those with more flavor (portabello) can mimic a hearty protein such as steak or other meat, while not interfering with most spices, sauces or marinades of choice. Those with less noticeable flavor (white mushrooms) will still provide ample vitamins and minerals while going well in almost anything, from pizza to pasta to stir-fry.
Due to their origins in the wild, foraged mushrooms should always be washed and dried before cooking and before consumption. Store-bought mushrooms are typically cleaned and prepped in sanitary conditions, but even then, it may be a good idea to give them a quick brush or rinse before cooking as well. (If you rinse the mushrooms, make sure to cook them right away. If left wet in the fridge, mushrooms will deteriorate quickly).
Shiitake mushrooms are native to East Asia and are among the most commonly cultivated types of mushroom worldwide. The name derives from “shii” (Castanopsis, for the tree log from which the mushroom typically cultivated) and “take” (“mushroom”). They are often used in Asian dishes and are high in B vitamins, copper, selenium, manganese and iron. These minerals help promote healthy cells and fight free radicals. Shiitake mushrooms are small, light brown and taste best in miso soup, stir-fry and pasta.
Also known as the white mushrooms, button mushrooms are widely harvested and the most common to see at your local grocery store’s produce section. They are small and white with very round caps and mild taste. Button mushrooms have little to no gills and overall smooth texture. They are the best to use in pizza, salad, stews and also work well in stir-fry. Like all mushrooms, button mushrooms are a great source of vitamin D, which is needed for bone health and calcium absorption. They also have some vitamin B12, which helps keep your blood and nerve cells healthy.
Oyster mushrooms are large and off-white (or even pink or yellow) with an uneven texture. Just one cup of oyster mushrooms boasts about 2 grams of fiber, 3 grams of protein and only 28 calories. They are a good source of fiber and protein, which help keep you full. They are also relatively high in niacin, which boosts brain function and may help promote healthy blood pressure. Oyster mushrooms are perfect in soups, stews or sauteed in olive oil and garlic as a healthy side dish. Like all mushrooms, they can also be roasted in the oven or grilled. Oyster mushrooms are found in subtropical and temperate forests worldwide, typically on oak and beech trees.
Named after a town in Italy called Portabello, these mushrooms usually grow in grasslands and temperate forests. Portobello mushrooms were first known to have been cultivated in 1707. They are darker brown with large caps and several gills, making them a little more labor-involved to cook with, but the meaty texture and subtle flavor is well worth the effort. Portobello mushrooms are great in recipes for mushroom steak, mushroom burgers and even mushroom tacos. They are high in B vitamins, which can boost your energy and help maintain healthy skin and hair.
Small, dark brown with very round, even caps, cremini mushrooms (also spelled “crimini”) are actually button mushrooms and portabellos, but at a less mature stage. Like portabellos, cremini mushrooms have a mild yet earthy flavor and meaty texture. For this reason, they are sometimes known as “baby bellas,” in reference to their similar taste to portabellos. Cremini mushrooms are cultivated in Eurasian and North American grasslands. They are relatively high in potassium, which is key for maintaining healthy blood pressure, building strong bones and recovering from exercise. Cremini mushrooms have enzymes and good bacterias which help boost your immune system, control blood pressure and improve digestion.
These are a few of the more common culinary mushrooms easily found at the grocery store to add flavor and a nourishing boost to your meals. As you can see, they benefit your health in so many ways, all while being delicious! It's easy to add more mushrooms to your diet. Check out our recipe for Easy Portabello Fajitas and enjoy the world (and health) of culinary mushrooms.
Hannah Moore graduated with a B.S. in Journalism & Mass Communications from San Jose State University and has written for several publications and websites. She is passionate about cooking and food, and how they affect our mental & physical wellbeing.