You can find them in creamy soups, pastas, and other savory dishes. Mushrooms definitely give an earthy flavor and add appeal to any dish. You may have eaten them many times in different dishes, but have you ever thought about the nutritional value of mushrooms? Do they even have benefits or are they just there to enhance a dish?
You probably know about this already, but just to set things straight, a mushroom is not a vegetable. It can be categorized as a type of fungi and described as the fleshy, fruiting body of a fungus. It is produced above the ground on soil or on its food source such as a tree trunk.
There are so many varieties of fleshy fungi that exist in nature that nobody can really say how many types exist. One thing is for sure though, there are more than 10,000 species known from different parts of the world. What we are going to focus on here are the edible types and their nutritional values.
It is common to use mushrooms in cooking, especially in cuisines such as Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and European. It is considered to be the meat of the vegetable world, even though it is not really a vegetable. It probably earned that moniker because skilled cooks can make a meat-like substitute using only different types of mushrooms.
Varieties of Edible Mushrooms
There may be thousands of different varieties of mushrooms, but when it comes to cooking, you only need to know a few them. Below are some of the most commonly used varieties in the kitchen.
1. Button Mushrooms
They are also known as white mushrooms and are probably the most common type that you can find from groceries and supermarkets. They are available all year round so you will not have any difficulties if you need this type of mushroom for a dish that you are preparing. They are harvested while they are still young and they have a very subtle, earthy flavor.
This type of mushroom is the most mature stage of the white button mushroom and is characterized by its fully grown out cap. Like the button mushrooms, the Portobello also has a mild flavor, but has a very meaty texture. Because if that, most cooks often use Portobello mushrooms if they need a meat substitute in their dish. It also tastes best when grilled or when stuffed with your favorite ingredients.
This mushroom variety is known for their striking golden color and their distinct fruity and peppery flavor. Chanterelles are usually used as toppings to an entrée or paired with eggs because of their delicate flavor and texture. They have a high moisture content so it is recommended to cook them in a dry sauté because they will quickly release their own water.
At first glance, you can mistake them for bean sprouts, but if you look long enough, you will see the distinction. Enoki mushrooms have long stems and little caps and are very common in Asian cuisine. They are crisp so they hold up well even when used in soups and salads. They also taste great when included in a stir fry. You can find fresh ones in the market, but in case you want to stock up, there are also Enoki mushrooms in cans.
Shiitake mushrooms are another type of mushroom that is predominant in Asian cuisine. That is because they grow mainly in Japan, China, ad Korea. They are known to be savory and meaty and even add a hint of umami taste in dishes. They are often used to top meat dishes and to add more flavor and texture to soups and sauces.
Some say that the oyster mushroom looks very intimidating and difficult to cook with. It may look very different from the common button mushrooms, but oyster mushrooms are actually very easy to prepare. They also have a delicate and sweet flavor that sometimes, they even taste like anise. This mushroom got its name because of its resemblance to oysters, but that is just that. It is also one of the easiest to be cultivated that is why it is also one of the more affordable mushroom varieties.
This type of mushroom is similar to the Portobello as it is very meaty and often used in Italian cuisine. They are light brown in color and can grow from an inch to ten inches across. They also have the distinct characteristic of being slightly nutty and creamy. You can find fresh, dried, and canned porcini mushrooms in supermarkets but make sure that when you use the dried ones, soak them first in hot water for about 15 minutes before cooking.
8. Hen of the Woods
These delicate and flowery mushrooms are also known as maltake which means dancing mushrooms in Japanese. They are rich, earthy, and packed with flavor that is why cooks love to include them in Japanese and Western cuisine. They also hold their shape well even when cooked so they are great for soups and stir fried dishes.
They may not look very pleasing and even look like a dried honeycomb but morels are packed with flavors, super savory, and delicious. They are a little chewy, but taste best when sautéed with butter.
Creminis are baby portobellos but more mature than white button mushrooms. They actually look like button mushrooms in terms of their shape, but they are slightly bigger and are a light shade of brown. Creminis also have a mild flavor and can work as a great substitute for white button mushrooms if you do not have any.
Nutrient Composition of Mushrooms
Mushrooms have their own kingdom classification because they are not plants and definitely not animals. Although they are commonly placed alongside and with vegetables for dietary recommendations, mushrooms have a different cellular organization and composition.
There are a lot of nutrients in mushrooms that is why it is a good idea to include it in your daily dishes. You can whip up a variety of food and you will not get tired of mushrooms because you can have different types every day. You can even use it as a meat substitute if you are watching your weight.
- Mushrooms are a good source of B vitamins such as riboflavin, niacin, and pantothenic acid. These vitamins help in providing energy by breaking down proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Niacin promotes healthy skin and makes sure that the nervous system and the digestive system are both functioning properly. Riboflavin is essential in maintaining healthy red blood cells. Pantothenic acid aids with hormone production and also has a vital role in the nervous system.
- Mushrooms contain a lot of important minerals such as the following:
- Selenium. This is a mineral which works as an antioxidant. It helps protect the cells from damages that may lead to heart disease, some types of cancers, and other diseases caused by aging. Selenium is also helpful for the immune system and fertility in men. There are other types of food which are rich in selenium, but mushrooms are among the richest source of this mineral. In fact, a serving of mushroom can provide 8 to 22 microgram.
- Potassium. This mineral helps the maintenance of normal fluid and mineral balance which controls blood pressure. It also has a responsibility in making sure that the nerves, muscles, and the heart are functioning properly. You can get 98 to 376 milligrams of potassium for every 84 gram serving and that is about 3 to 11% of the daily value.
- Ergothioneine. This is a naturally occurring antioxidant, which can also help protect the cells in the body. You can get about 2.8 to 4.9 milligrams of ergothioneine for one serving of while port0bello or cremini mushrooms.
- Copper. This mineral is essential for red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout the body. It also helps keep bones and nerves healthy that is why it is necessary to include it in your daily diet.
- Numerous mushroom species also contain beta-glucans which were shown to have immunity-stimulating effects. They also contribute to resistance against allergies and may also have a part in physiological processes related to the metabolism of fats and sugars. The most effective beta-glucans are those which are contained in varieties such as oyster, shiitake, and split gill mushrooms.
- Mushrooms have a high protein content with around 20 to 30% by dry weight.
- Mushrooms contain fiber, which helps lower cholesterol and is also important for the digestive system.
- Mushrooms have low levels of fat, calories, sodium, and have no cholesterol.
Health Benefits of Mushrooms
The nutrition of mushrooms has been laid out earlier and needless to say, mushrooms are one of the most nutritious types of food with regard to the health benefits that they can bring.
Mushroom are high in antioxidants and as you may already know, antioxidants help the body get rid of free radicals. Free radicals are chemicals which can harm our body cells and can potentially lead to cancer.
Mushroom contains the mineral selenium, which plays a role in liver enzyme function. It also helps detoxify some of the compounds in the body which can potentially cause cancer. Additionally, selenium also helps decrease growth rates of tumors and prevents inflammation.
Mushrooms also have vitamin D which also helps inhibit the growth of cancer cells. It does this by contributing to the regulation of the cell growth cycle. The folate found in mushrooms also has an important role in the synthesis and repair of DNA. This, in turn, prevents the formation of cancer cells from mutations in the DNA.
According to studies, people with type 1 diabetes who consume diets high in fiber may have lower blood glucose levels while people with type 2 diabetes may have an improvement in their blood sugar, lipids, and insulin levels.
If you consume a cup of grilled Portobello mushrooms and a cup of stir fried shiitake mushrooms, you can get about 3 grams of fiber from each. This will benefit your digestive system and reduce the risk of heart disease and metabolic syndrome.
3. Heart Health
Mushrooms contain fiber, potassium, and vitamin C, which all contribute to cardiovascular health. Sodium and potassium both work to help regulate blood pressure. When you consume mushrooms, you can experience lower blood pressure and of course, decrease the risk of high blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases.
A daily intake of 3 grams of beta-glucans can also lower blood cholesterol levels by as much as 5%. Mushrooms in general are a great source of beta-glucans but it is particularly abundant in the stems of shiitake mushrooms.
By stimulating the production of killer T-cells, selenium also improves immune response to infection. The beta-glucan fibers found in the cell walls of mushrooms can also help stimulate the immune system in fighting cancer cells and preventing the formation of tumors.
Mushrooms also provide ergothioneine, which is a naturally occurring antioxidant that helps protect the cells in the body.
5. Weight Management
Mushrooms are hearty and filling that is why it is recommended for those who would like to lose some weight. They contain two types of dietary fibers in their cell walls, the beta-glucans and the chitin. These dietary fibers play a vital role in weight management because they function as a bulking agent in the digestive system.
It means that when you consume mushrooms, they increase satiety and reduce your appetite by making you feel fuller longer. When that happens, you will reduce your overall calorie intake.
As mentioned earlier, mushrooms can also be used as a substitute for meat in dishes. One example of a great substitution is using white button mushrooms in replacement for red meat. You can enjoy similar texture and taste, with less calories.
Tips in Incorporating Mushroom to Your Diet
When doing your grocery shopping, always make sure that you include different types of mushrooms, depending on the dish that you have in mind. You can choose from fresh, dried, or canned, but it is always best to choose fresh. When buying fresh mushrooms, choose those which are firm, dry, and do not have any bruises. Do not buy mushrooms, which are slimy or appear withered, unless they are the dried variety.
Once you get home, store the mushrooms in the refrigerator to keep them fresh. Do not wash or trim them unless you are ready to cook and use them as ingredients.
For a quick and easy side dish, you can sauté any type of mushroom with onions and other vegetables of your choice. You can also add raw sliced crimini mushrooms or white mushrooms as a topping for your salads.
Stuffed Portobello mushrooms are always a hit and easy to make so you can prepare them when you are hosting lunch or dinner at home. Just fill them with your favorite ingredients, top off with herbs and cheese, and pop them right in the oven.
You can also add sliced mushrooms to your omelettes, scrambles, and quiches for more taste and texture. Grilled Portobello mushrooms can also be added in sandwiches or in wraps. The addition of mushroom can also make a simple dish much more filling.
If you are fond of Japanese cuisine, you can make a healthy side dish by sautéing shiitake mushrooms in broth or olive oil. For your reference, a serving of 19 grams of shiitake mushroom contains the following:
- 6 calories
- 09 grams of fat
- 29 grams of carbohydrates, including 0.45 grams of sugar
- 43 grams of protein
- 5 grams of dietary fiber
Aside from baking stuffed Portobello mushrooms, you can also cut the stems off and marinate it in a mixture of olive oil, onion, garlic, and vinegar for about an hour. After marinating, you can grill them for 10 minutes before serving. A serving of Portobello mushrooms weighing 84 grams contains the following:
- 18 calories
- 29 grams of fat
- 25 grams of carbohydrates, including 2.10 grams of sugar
- 77 grams of protein
- 1 grams of dietary fiber
Indeed, mushrooms are powerhouses of effective and powerful nutrients. Having a daily dose of mushrooms can definitely bring a lot of health benefits to your body so make sure that you always have mushrooms in your kitchen.
Maximize your mushroom consumption and get the highest nutritional value by buying the organic kinds or better yet, growing your own, so that you can be sure that they will not contain any harmful toxins. Also, eat a variety of mushrooms so that you can have different levels of nutrients and get an even broader spectrum of benefits.
The nutritional value of mushrooms is very potent and impressive that the benefits range from maintaining good health to preventing the growth and development of potential health issues. Keep in mind that while mushrooms are packed with nutrients, they can lose most of those nutrients if you cook them in unhealthy oils or combine them with a lot of unhealthy foods. Bake, steam, broil, or cook them with healthy vegetable oils so that you can fully optimize the flavor yet still retain the important nutrients needed by your body.