Shiitake mushrooms are one of the most popular mushrooms worldwide. They are revered for their rich, savory taste and diverse health benefits.
In this article, I'll explain everything you need to know about shiitake mushrooms.
Shiitake (Lentinus edodes) is native to Asia with a rich history of use in the kitchen and in herbalism. In the 12th century, Shiitake Mushroom cultivation began in the mountains of central China. A fragrant and delicious edible mushroom, Shiitake is now the second most popular cultivated Mushroom in the world after the button mushroom.
Seasonality & Availability
While Shiitake are cultivated around the world, its natural habitat is hardwood forests throughout Asia. In nature, Shiitake spores are released from fruiting bodies in the fall or spring, traveling through the forest air and landing on both live tree branches and fallen limbs and logs. Healthy trees will overcome the Shiitake spores and live on, while the Shiitake spores will take over the dead branch and build a mycelial network that produces fruiting bodies.
Shiitake grow in groups on the decaying wood of deciduous trees, mainly chestnut, oak, maple, beech, sweetgum, poplar, hornbeam, ironwood, mulberry and chinquapin. Its natural distribution includes warm and moist climates in Southeast Asia.
Shiitake are now widely cultivated all over the world, and contribute about 25% of the total yearly production of mushrooms. Commercially, shiitake mushrooms are typically grown in conditions similar to their natural environment on either the artificial substrate or hardwood logs, such as oak.
The Chinese were the first to cultivate this mildly fragrant mushroom more than six hundred years ago. Yield and quality varied from year to year until scientific techniques were developed.
Japanese scientists developed a method of inserting pencil-shaped plugs of mycelial spawn grown from specially selected varieties of Lentinus edodes into holes bored in oak logs. Carefully watched over in the forest, the prepared logs carried out the work that supported the entire shiitake industry.
You can find shiitake mushrooms fresh, dried, or in various dietary supplements.
Shop carefully when purchasing dried shiitakes, since there are many grades and prices. The caps may be thick and fleshy, or thin; large or small; cracked on top or smooth. The very thick, cracked-topped donko types are expensive but worth the price. They are meaty and can stand up to any food.
The nutritional content of shiitake mushrooms
Shiitake mushrooms are considered to be medicinal mushrooms in some forms of traditional medicine. The fruiting bodies of this mushroom contain polysaccharides, specifically a type called beta-glucans, which have been studied to support immune health and overall wellness, as well as normal, healthy cell growth and turnover.
Shiitake offer good amounts of fiber, as well as B vitamins and some minerals.
The nutrients in 4 dried shiitake (15 grams) are (2Trusted Sources):
- Calories: 44
- Carbs: 11 grams
- Fiber: 2 grams
- Protein: 1 gram
- Riboflavin: 11% of the Daily Value (DV)
- Niacin: 11% of the DV
- Copper: 39% of the DV
- Vitamin B5: 33% of the DV
- Selenium: 10% of the DV
- Manganese: 9% of the DV
- Zinc: 8% of the DV
- Vitamin B6: 7% of the DV
- Folate: 6% of the DV
- Vitamin D: 6% of the DV
In addition, shiitake contain many of the same amino acids as meat.
They also boast polysaccharides, terpenoids, sterols, and lipids, some of which have immune-boosting, cholesterol-lowering, and anticancer effects.
The amount of bioactive compounds in shiitake will depend on how the mushrooms are grown, stored, and prepared.
- Helps treat obesity
- Enhance immunity
- Eradicate cancer cells
- Supports cardiovascular system
- Antimicrobial activity
- Boosts brain health
- Natural source of Vitamin D
- Improves Skin ailments
Shiitake Mushrooms Culinary usage
Because shiitakes grow on wood or other coarse cellulose materials, the fresh mushrooms are very clean. Brush the caps lightly. As a rule, the stems are tough so cut them off before cooking.
The stems can be used to add flavor to stock.
Shiitake mushrooms will enhance the flavor of most foods.
Reconstitute dried mushrooms by soaking them in hot or boiling water for 20 minutes. Save the liquid to include in another dish.
Pour off the liquid at the top to separate it from any debris at the bottom of the dish in which it was soaked.
Mushrooms have a distinct umami flavor, which can be especially helpful when making vegan dishes. To select the best specimens, look for ones sold whole rather than sliced. The caps should be thick with deep, white gills.
When cooking with fresh shiitake mushrooms, remove the stems, which remain tough even after cooking. Save the stems in the freezer for making veggie stock. You can cook shiitake as you would any other mushroom.
My favorite way to cook shiitake is in with a little olive oil, garlic, and thyme, pan-fry until golden brown, and season with a little salt, a small splash of soy sauce, or red wine to de-glaze the pan.
My favorite recipes
Check out my Mushroom Lovers Masterclass on Youtube
Fun shiitake mushroom facts
- It has been estimated that the origin of shiitake mushrooms can be traced to the cretaceous period over one hundred million years ago.
- Shiitake is used in Japan to treat cancer as it contains Lentinan and selenium - an antioxidant that helps prevent cancer.
Where to source shiitake mushrooms
Shiitake mushrooms can be sourced from good supermarkets and online retailers.