What Are Mushrooms?
Although sometimes considered a vegetable, mushrooms are a type of fungus. In a way, mushrooms are like the fruit of a plant. Instead of producing seeds, the mushroom fungus releases millions of microscopic spores that form under the mushroom’s cap. They can grow above ground, on top of the soil, or on the surface of a food source.
Mushrooms are native to North America and Europe and are known for their delicate flavor and meaty texture.
They are also widely known for their amazing health benefits. Packed with a ton of essential vitamins and minerals, mushrooms make for an excellent addition to your diet, adding a great taste to many different recipes.
Types of Mushrooms
There are more than a million estimated species of fungi. Mushrooms grow in a variety of colors and sizes.
Edible mushrooms make up only a small fraction of fungi. Cremini mushrooms are one of the most widely used mushroom varieties, popular in kitchens around the world.
Other types of edible mushrooms include:
Truffles. Truffles are also a type of fungus and are generally considered to be mushrooms. However, they differ from other mushrooms in how they look and grow. Truffles don't have stems like other mushrooms and are brown with a bumpy texture. Also, they grow underground attached to the roots of trees.
Truffles have a stronger taste and smell than other mushrooms and only grow a few months during the year, whereas many mushrooms grow year-round.
Mushrooms are a low-calorie food and pack a nutritional punch. Loaded with many health-boosting vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, they’ve long been recognized as an important part of any diet. Mushrooms exposed to ultraviolet light are a good source of vitamin D, an important component for bone and immune health.
Cremini mushrooms are an excellent source of zinc, which is an important nutrient for the immune system and is also needed for ensuring optimal growth in infants and children.
Researchers have found a number of other excellent reasons for adding mushrooms to your diet, such as:
Mushrooms are a rich source of potassium, a nutrient known for reducing the negative impact that sodium can have on your body. Potassium also lessens the tension in blood vessels, potentially helping to lower blood pressure. Additionally, mushrooms have a low level of sodium, so using them in recipes that call for saltier ingredients can reduce your sodium intake, which in turn helps with blood pressure.
The anti-inflammatory effect of mushrooms has been shown to greatly improve the efficiency of the immune system. Mushrooms contain high amounts of selenium, vitamin D, and vitamin B6. Selenium can help prevent cell damage in our bodies, vitamin D helps with cell growth, and vitamin B6 helps our bodies form red blood cells. All of these nutrients in mushrooms help to maintain a healthy immune system.
Long- and short-term studies have found that mushrooms, in combination with exercise and other lifestyle changes, can have an important impact on weight loss. It is thought that the antioxidants in mushrooms may increase cells' defense systems, thus improving anti-inflammatory actions and protecting against obesity-related hypertension.
Mushrooms are a rich, low-calorie source of fiber, protein, and antioxidants. They may also help to lessen the risk of developing serious health conditions, such as Alzheimer’s, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
They’re also great sources of:
Nutrients per serving
One cup of whole cremini mushrooms contains:
- Calories: 15
- Protein: 2.2 grams
- Fat: 0.1 grams
- Carbohydrates: 3.7 grams
- Fiber: 0.5 grams
- Sugar: 1.5 grams
One cup of chopped mushrooms is considered the typical serving size. Thanks to their umami taste, mushrooms can be used as a substitute for meat in many dishes.
How to Prepare Mushrooms
Mushrooms are almost always readily available in the produce section of any grocery or health food store. They are easy to grow at home as well.
You can eat cremini mushrooms raw or cooked, sliced or unsliced. They can be simmered in a pot of water for about 5 minutes until soft, or sautéed in a hot skillet. When sautéing, cook the mushrooms in a pan with olive oil on medium heat for about 8 minutes, stirring frequently until they brown at the edges.
Chopped mushrooms can be sprinkled raw over your meals to add a little more texture and flavor. Just make sure to wash them thoroughly first.
Here are some popular ways to add more mushrooms to your diet:
- Add mushrooms as an ingredient in homemade pizza.
- Sprinkle chopped cremini mushrooms on salads.
- Cook mushrooms with garlic and butter for a tasty side dish.
- Add them to pasta sauce.
- Mix mushrooms into cooked beef, chicken, or turkey.
- Make cream of mushroom soup.
- Add them into a stir-fry with other vegetables.
- Eat mushrooms with eggs in the morning.
Producers make canned mushrooms by slicing fresh mushrooms and packing the pieces in brine. Next, they seal the cans and send them through a pressure canning process.
Canned mushrooms contain the same ingredients as fresh mushrooms. However, they can have a lot of sodium because of the salty brine that is used to can them.
Mushroom foraging is another term for searching for wild mushrooms. Those who are interested in foraging may enjoy the activity for a few reasons, including:
- Studying. Mushroom foraging involves studying and correctly identifying specific mushrooms. Many edible mushrooms look the same as those that can be deadly if eaten. Hence, learning to hunt for and understand the differences between a variety of mushrooms can be a difficult skill and take many years to perfect. Skilled mushroom foragers are able to identify species and understand habitats, among other abilities.
- Cooking. It’s generally not recommended to source mushrooms from the wild, as many mushroom varieties are poisonous and hard to distinguish from edible varieties. However, some foragers look for mushrooms with the goal of preparing them to cook. Picking mushrooms from cleaner environments, separating them by species, and collecting them in a mesh bag versus a plastic bag, are considered some important rules to follow when choosing the right mushrooms for cooking. Skilled foragers may even become certified to sell mushrooms to local restaurants.