Shiitake mushrooms have a rich, earthy flavor and a distinctive taste best described as meaty. These mushrooms have large caps measuring 2 to 5 inches wide, and they vary in color from light to chocolate brown, providing an attractive contrast with their pale cream underside.
Lentinula edodes is native to the mountain regions of Japan, Korea, and China, where it grows on fallen logs. This species has a long history of use all throughout East Asia, with people collecting wild shiitake for both food and traditional medicine. People in China first began cultivating shiitake mushrooms about 1,000 to 1,200 years ago, where they knew the species as dongo or shanku.
Cultivation methods later spread to Japan, with samurai warriors controlling most of the production for the aristocracy. Here, shiitake gained the name that remains widely accepted today — shii for Castanopsis cuspidata, the hardwood tree species that the mushrooms commonly grow on, and take, the Japanese word for mushroom.
Today, shiitake mushrooms are popular around the world for their taste and their handy ability to grow on either natural fallen logs or artificial substrate. You can find them grown commercially in China, Japan, the United States, Korea, and Brazil, with China producing about 80 to 90 percent of all shiitake worldwide.
Shiitake mushrooms have one of the highest amounts of natural copper, a mineral that supports healthy blood vessels, bones, and immune support. In fact, 1/2 cup of shiitake mushrooms gives you 72 percent of your daily recommended intake (DRI) of this mineral. The mushrooms are also a rich source of selenium, providing 33 percent of your DRI.
Here are additional health benefits for shiitake mushrooms:
Improve heart health.
Shiitake mushrooms contain eritadenine, a compound known to reduce cholesterol levels in the blood. They also contain beta-glucans that reduce inflammation and help prevent the intestines from absorbing cholesterol.
Support immune health.
Shiitake are rich in polysaccharides like lentinans and other beta-glucans. These compounds protect against cell damage, help your immune system, and boost white blood cell production for fighting off microbes. Polysaccharides also have anti-inflammatory properties.
Shiitake mushrooms are a good source of key vitamins and minerals:
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin B6
Nutrients per Serving
One-half cup of raw shiitake mushrooms contains:
- Calories: 34
- Protein: 2.5 grams
- Fat: 0.5 grams
- Carbohydrates: 7 grams
- Fiber: 3 grams
- Sugar: 2 grams
- Cholesterol: 0 milligrams
- Sodium: 9 milligrams
Things to Watch Out For
In rare instances, some people are sensitive to raw shiitake mushrooms due to the lentinan compound they contain. This compound, which provides many of the mushroom’s health benefits, can cause an allergic reaction with skin dermatitis.
Shiitake skin dermatitis feels itchy and uncomfortable, but it typically disappears in one to two weeks. Cooking the shiitake mushrooms avoids this reaction but may reduce the health benefits from lentinan.
How to Use Shiitake Mushrooms
Shiitake mushrooms are the third-most popular mushroom in the world, after oyster and white button. You can sometimes find them in supermarkets, but you may need to look in farmers markets or specialty grocers. You can also buy shiitake mushrooms in dried form.
Try some of these shiitake recipes for a healthy meal:
- Stir-fry broccoli and shiitake mushrooms and add to soba noodles.
- Make a risotto using rice, parmesan cheese, and caramelized shiitake.
- Enjoy a creamy fettuccine with shiitake and basil.
- Top beef tenderloin with shiitake sauce.
- Make a creamy shiitake mushroom soup.