Mushrooms have potential as a healthy alternative to meat, with nutritional content comparable to most vegetables. This has made it a viable food option in countries where there is a shortage of food and diets are unbalanced. Closer home, it is a delicious ingredient that can be a nice change from the usual vegetable staples and work well as a stand-in for meat too! Discover the range of species you can enjoy as food, as well as others that have myriad health benefits.
Types Of Mushrooms
Mushrooms may be cultivated for use as food or in medicines or can grow wild and be foraged. With tens of thousands in North America alone, trying to learn about each and every mushroom is a challenge. Instead, focus on the ones that are most popularly used in cooking, and those that can give you the most health benefits.
Mushrooms You Can Eat!
A wide range of edible mushrooms are used in cuisines from around the world. Many of these are now available in your local supermarket, and the more exotic ones can be found at
- Button: The most easily available, these white mushrooms have a mild yet earthy taste.
- Portobello: Vegetarians know this one well because it is often used as a stand-in for meat in many recipes. A mild-flavored, meaty-textured mushroom, it is essentially a mature white button.
- Morel: Sometimes expensive, yet not-so-pretty Morels have a honeycomb pattern and chewy texture.
- Chanterelles: Lacy moist golden fan-like chanterelles have a lovely peppery and fruity flavor.
- Oyster: Oyster mushrooms bear more than a passing resemblance to the shellfish of the same name and have a delicate almost sweet flavor.
- Porcini: An Italian favorite, this mushroom has a nutty flavor and a sourdough-like aroma. The porcini is distinctive and easily discernable in any recipe.
- Enoki: Used in Asian cooking, these delicate graceful mushrooms seem almost like bean sprouts with their long white stalks and tiny caps.
- Shiitake: Another oriental favorite, the umami flavor of these mushrooms is legendary.
Besides these, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization, there are over a thousand species of edible fungi found in various countries in
Medicinal And Health Benefits Of Mushrooms
A low-fat food, mushrooms contain niacin, folate, and other B vitamins, as well as vitamins C and D, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, iron, copper, and magnesium.2
Mushrooms have been identified as “functional foods” that do more than just fill you up or provide you with nutrients. The mix of nutrients in them can do more for your body and act as therapeutic foods, or have medicinal or other health benefits. Among these, prominent varieties with potent health benefits include the Ganoderma species also known as ling zhi or reishi. These are considered very valuable from a medicinal standpoint and have a market exceeding 1.5 billion dollars in the United States alone.3 It is said to help with everything from hepatoprotection to immune system modulation and controlling blood glucose levels.4
Other species like Lentinula edodes or the popular shiitake mushroom, Volvariella volvacea or what you may know as the straw mushroom or simply the Chinese mushroom are other medicinal species that are cultivated for use. The Inonotus obliquus or the chaga mushroom too has medicinal benefits but is found growing wild. Some varieties are produced on the other side of the globe, like the Cordyceps sinensis which is grown in China and Nepal.5
Some of the benefits of mushrooms are listed below along with the species that are used in Traditional Chinese Medicine or herbal remedies.6
- Antibiotic and antiviral properties: Some species have antifungal, antibacterial, and antiparasitic action. These include edible mushrooms Oudemansiella mucida and Agaricus blazei, as well mushrooms you can also eat as food like Hypsizygus marmoreus. Other like Agrocybe aegerita, Dendropolyporus umbellatus, Ganoderma applanatum, Inonotus obliquus, Volvariella volvacea, and Armillaria mellea have antiviral properties.
- Anti-inflammatory action: Food mushrooms like Laetiporus sulphureus and Marasmius androsaceus, as well as non-edible ones like Fomes fomentarius, Piptoporus betulinus and Lenzites betulina, have anti inflammatory properties.
- Antitumour activity: Mushrooms may also help battle cancer. Species like Pleurotus pulmonarius, a type of Oyster mushroom, are said to act on tumors, slowing their spread. Some animal studies have been done, but further research may be warranted.7 Their antitumor activity has been found to be beneficial when used in conjunction with chemotherapy.8
- Hypercholesterolaemia and hyperlipidemia treatment: For those with high cholesterol levels or high fats in their blood, mushrooms like Grifola frondosa may be used.
- Hepatoprotective effect: Ganoderma lucidum and Lentinula edodes are good for your liver and have protective benefits for this organ.
These mushrooms are worked into herbal teas, soups, tonics, tinctures, and other formulations that allow you to tap the health benefits. Do note that not all of these are backed up by adequate mainstream scientific study, so you will need to check with your doctor on their use or approach a trained practitioner for the right prescription. If you have a potentially life threatening condition, do not stop taking your regular medication and always check if consuming these will interact with your existing medication. View these as a therapeutic supplementary treatment.
Mushrooms To Avoid
Foraging for mushrooms may seem like a wonderful idea in theory, but with thousands of species including many that are poisonous, you are better off
When you do head to the farmer’s market or store to buy them, look for fresh, unbruised mushrooms. Ideally, they should be in packaging that has air holes to prevent bacterial growth that could cause botulism. You should also be aware that mushrooms need to be cultivated properly, so stick to known producers.
Mushroom Safety: Preparing Them Right
This begins with how you store your mushrooms. Mushrooms are perishable, so ensure you store them in a refrigerator that’s set to be at 40° F or under.12 Also know the shelf life of the mushroom – save the packaging so you don’t forget. Get your storage wrong, by forgetting to refrigerate for instance, and you run the risk of contracting serious illnesses like botulism. Most mushrooms last no more than five days even when stored correctly. If you buy them loose, remember to store them in a paper bag in the refrigerator. Don’t wash them until you’re ready to use them, this will spoil them. Ideally, keep them in their original packaging that’s designed for safe storage.13 The canned kind can be stored in a cool dry place like a cupboard in your kitchen or pantry. Just be sure to keep track of the use by date.
When it is time to cook your fresh mushrooms, be sure to wash and clean them well. Using running tap water can help rinse the dirt and chemicals that could be stuck on the surface. Use a soft bristle brush that you keep exclusively for washing mushrooms, or a clean cloth that you wash separately afterward. The flesh below the cap is especially prone to collecting bacteria, germs, and dirt, so rinse it well.14 With a little care, you will be able to enjoy the delicious flavors of mushrooms and tap the functional benefits without putting your health at risk.
|↑1, ↑5||Boa, Eric R. Wild edible fungi: a global overview of their use and importance to people. No. 17. Food & Agriculture Org., 2004.|
|↑2||Make Money by Growing Mushrooms. FAO.|
|↑3||Boa, Eric R. Wild edible fungi: a global overview of their use and
|↑4||Wachtel-Galor, Sissi, John Yuen, John A. Buswell, and Iris FF Benzie. “Ganoderma lucidum (Lingzhi or Reishi).” (2011).|
|↑6||Boa, Eric R. Wild edible fungi: a global overview of their use and importance to people. No. 17. Food & Agriculture
|↑7||Patel, Yashvant, Ram Naraian, and V. K. Singh. “Medicinal properties of Pleurotus species (oyster mushroom): a review.” World Journal of Fungal and Plant Biology 3, no. 1 (2012): 1-12.|
|↑8||Wasser, S. P. “Medicinal mushrooms as a source of antitumor and immunomodulating polysaccharides.” Applied microbiology and biotechnology 60, no. 3 (2002): 258-274.|
|↑9||Mushroom Hunting. Missouri Deparment of Conservation.|
|↑10||Poisonous Mushrooms. University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa Botany Department.|
|↑11, ↑13, ↑14||Mushrooms. Government of Canada.|
|↑12||Tips for Fresh Produce Safety. Food Safety, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.|