Globally, shiitake mushrooms are among the most popular varieties. They are the perfect complement to a variety of meat and vegan dishes. Because they are sold in dried form, some people are unaware that they can also be purchased fresh or eaten raw.
Shiitake mushrooms offer a wide range of nutritional and health benefits, which are too valuable to ignore (What about enoki mushrooms? Read more here). Read on if you’ve heard about the shiitake mushroom’s health and taste potential, but don’t know much about them.
In this article, you will learn everything you need to know about the shiitake mushroom.
We explain all the must-know facts, how they can be eaten, and taste expectations. We tell you the benefits of eating this superfood, and whether they pose any health risks when eaten in raw form. Don’t forget to check out our conclusion too.
Shiitake Mushroom Facts
The shiitake mushroom is part of the Marasmiaceae family. They are the most popular mushroom in the world, after the famous button mushroom (see also ‘Are Enoki Mushrooms Healthy?‘).
The shiitake mushroom’s other names include, the oak mushroom, black forest mushroom, black, dongo, shian-gu, and shanku mushroom. In Japan, the word ‘shii’ translates as ‘from a hardwood tree,’ and ‘take’ means ‘mushroom’.
Cultivation of these mushrooms is a global affair. They are fairly small, with a cap circumference of 10 – 20 cm, with thin stems. The shade of the mushroom can vary from light to dark brown.
Can You Eat Raw Shiitake Mushrooms?
The shiitake mushroom is edible in its fresh, raw form. Due to their intensely buttery and meaty texture, they are a good choice as a meat substitute for vegans. When eaten fresh, the taste is not as strong.
Some people think the shiitake mushroom is poisonous when eaten raw. While this is untrue, a small percentage of the population may develop a reaction from eating raw shiitake mushrooms. Let’s take a look at the possible side effects from eating fresh shiitake mushrooms.
Side Effects Of Eating Raw Shiitake Mushrooms
Many people steer clear from consuming raw shiitake mushrooms due to the rumors they are poisonous when eaten this way. This is simply a myth. However, as with many consumables, the shiitake mushroom (when eaten fresh), can cause reactions in a minority of the population.
This is the term given to the toxic reaction developed from eating raw shiitake mushrooms. The reaction looks similar to whiplash marks. The rash is irritating but will go away on its own. Sometimes, this can take several weeks to resolve.
Management of the rash includes treatments such as antihistamines or oral steroids.
Shiitake mushrooms (like all other mushroom varieties), contain a substance called chitin. This is very tough and difficult to digest. As such, a few people do not respond well, and may experience mild digestive discomfort.
Do Shiitake Mushroom Contain Toxic Compounds?
The Japanese derived fungi contains a polysaccharide called lentinan. Ironically, this component is the source of reactions in some people, while providing health-promoting benefits in others. Studies show lentinan provides significant anti-inflammatory and cancer-thwarting benefits.
This component dissolves upon heating. However, when eating a raw shiitake mushroom, it can (on a rare occurrence) cause a toxic reaction. The result is an uncomfortable but otherwise harmless skin rash.
This component in shiitake mushrooms is responsible for the above-mentioned Shiitake Dermatitis condition.
Benefits Of Eating Shiitake Mushrooms
Studies have shown that people who eat shiitake mushrooms, either raw or cooked, have an improved immune system.
The component lentinan in these fungi can reduce inflammation in the body.
Cancer Fighting Abilities
Research suggests that consumption of the shiitake mushroom may aid in slowing down the production and spread of cancer cells within the body. However, the research is ongoing.
These mushrooms come loaded with vitamins and minerals to keep your body and brain in tip-top condition. Furthermore, they contain no fat whatsoever, and are a good source of fiber and protein.
Which Is Nutritionally Better: Raw Or Cooked Shiitake Mushrooms?
Fresh and cooked shiitake mushrooms have the same nutritional content. The only point to consider here, is if you have trouble with digestion. Should this be the case, your body may not be able to digest and therefore absorb all nutrients from an uncooked shiitake.
Shiitake Mushroom Flavor
The shiitake mushroom’s flavor is distinctively buttery, meaty, and slightly smoky. When eaten raw, the flavor is less obvious. Their thick cells make them a chewy addition to most dishes. Cooked shiitake mushrooms give off a garlic-like smell.
How To Prepare And Eat Raw Shiitake Mushrooms
If you want to eat fresh shiitake mushrooms, make sure you thoroughly wash them first. Some people find the stems too indigestible, so it may be wise to cut them off before serving in your chosen dish. Fresh, sliced, shiitake mushrooms make a great addition to most salads.
Alternatively, they are ideal when added with a salty cabbage side dish. If you buy dried shiitake mushrooms, the powdered form can literally be thrown into any cuisine to achieve next-level tastiness.
Cooked Shiitake Mushrooms
Cooked shiitake mushrooms are a great choice for a wide choice of dishes. Sauces, soups, stir-fry, vegan dishes, omelettes, and many more. They can be cooked any way you like and will transform a bland dish into a wow-factor taste fest.
On the whole, raw shiitake mushrooms are safe to eat. If you want a quick nutritional boost, with minimal effort, these mushrooms are a perfect choice. However, if you suffer from digestive disorders, or have a high food sensitivity, proceed with care.
Try a little, avoiding the stem, and see if you have any adverse effects. If you are fine, the chances are you can add this highly regarded fungi to your diet.
The health and taste benefits of the shiitake mushroom are great. Their potential as a cancer-fighting agent makes them a food ingredient, that everyone should try.
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