The Power of Mushrooms

by in Healthy Recipes, March 26, 2009


They may not have magical powers (well, not the kind we’d endorse), but mushrooms do have amazing versatility. Find out more about these “fun guys” (get it?) and how they can keep things interesting in the kitchen.

The Varieties
Mushrooms are commonly mistaken as a vegetable, but they’re really a fungus. A whole mushroom is called a spore and consists of three sections: cap, stem and gills (the underside of the cap). Oyster, brown, portobello, shitake and white (a.k.a. button) are types you likely know, but there are thousands of other varieties available in different sizes, shapes and colors.

Nutrition Info
A cup of sliced mushrooms contains around 20 calories and provides a significant amount of nutrients in relation to their total calorie content — top goodies include folate, thiamine, vitamin B-6, iron and zinc.

Mushrooms also contain a powerful antioxidant called L-ergothioneine, which has been linked to kidney and liver protection. Shitake, oyster and king oyster mushrooms have the highest amounts of this antioxidant; crimini, portobello and button mushrooms have lesser amounts but are still considered good sources. L-ergothioneine is found in chicken liver and wheat germ, too.

News on Health Benefits
A newly published study suggests that women who eat plenty of mushrooms may have a lower risk of developing breast cancer. The study looked at more than 2,000 Chinese woman and found that the more dried and fresh mushrooms the women consumed, the lower their risk was.

Old Wives’ Tales
For those with an interest in the more exotic, some wild varieties might be the thing. Popular ones include enoki, cépe, chanterelle and puffball. Going to the forest and picking your own mushrooms may sound appealing, but there are many poisonous (and deadly!) mushrooms out there. Some of my former culinary students used to tell me the tale of the silver coin — if the coin changes color when cooking wild mushrooms, then the mushrooms are poisonous. First, don’t cook your food with coins! Second, this is not true. If you’re a novice mushroom picker, always go with an expert, as this New York Times article explains.

Uses for Mushrooms
Always make sure to brush or gently wash the dirt from the mushrooms before using. Since cooking over high heat for long periods of time destroys vitamins, quick sautéing or stir-frying helps maintain their nutritional value.

Mushrooms add a meaty flavor (called umami) to dishes and can replace part of the meat in recipes (just like in this Turkey-Mushroom Burger). This is helpful for those looking to create heart-healthy meals and lower the saturated fat and cholesterol in their diets. Mushrooms can also replace the meat in dishes, which is a great choice for vegetarians.

There are endless ways to incorporate mushrooms into your meals. Add raw mushrooms to salads or sautéed mushrooms to a bed of greens. Create a mushroom pasta dish, add to a quiche or top a pizza. Mushroom sauces are a light way to flavor your chicken or pork — the possibilities are endless!

Shopping Tip: Choose fresh mushrooms that are firm and evenly colored. Avoid those that are broken, damaged or have soft spots. If all the gills are showing, the mushroom is no longer fresh. Store unwashed mushrooms in the refrigerator in a paper bag for 5 to 6 days.

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Comments (26)

  1. A friend just sent this article along to us and I can’t believe I’m just finding you guys! What a fantastic article- thank you for dispersing so much awesome info and we always love new friends- dietician, blogger and otherwise!

  2. Clint says:

    Mushrooms are powerful foods. The problem is that the white button, the portabello and the crimini are highly contaminated with pesticides if they are not organic and it’s almost impossible to find organic buttons. Because they are grown on cow compost…poop, black flies are attracted to them and insecticides are liberally used on the fruiting bodies. The pesticides are intended for use in open fields where UV radiation from the sun breaks down the pesticides into less harmful compounds. Since mushrooms are grown in the dark, the pesticides remain potent and active. I never eat these mushrooms. Stick to shiitake and oyster and the other wood-grown fungi.

  3. Connie Ervin says:

    I LOVE mushroms, especially raw ones. I am so glad to get the info from the comment on pesticides. I didn’t know this so I am definitely going to change my eating habits on these types of mushrooms.

  4. Lynn says:

    A popular mushroom in China and across Asia is called "black fungus". Despite the scary name, these are absolutely delicious and are some of the healthier mushrooms available. They are sold dry and look like… well, to me they look like bunches of seaweed. Great for stir-fry.

  5. Patty says:

    Someone please tell me that Clint is stretching the truth about how mushrooms are contaminated with pesticides and grown in cow poop!!?? I love mushrooms and eat a lot of button since that is about all we have access too around my area.

  6. Wideye says:

    Hi Patty – I just copied and sent Clint’s comments over to a nutritionist at Health Canada and asked the same question. It makes sense………that's the scary part. Except that….well, it's just so gross if it's accurate. If I get a response I'll let you know but I'm sure it won't be an "official HC" answer. It will be me asking a friend who works there…

    PS – Clint – thank you! :O) I always thought that because mushrooms grew in the dark that insecticides/pesticides were not required because …weeds don't grow in the dark?

  7. Wideye says:

    This was from a friend who is a nutritionist and NOT an official response but something to add to the conversation. :O)

    "The concern here is the pesticide. My view is that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (which is responsible for overseeing pesticide/contaminant content in our daily food supply) generally does a good job of monitoring contaminants in food. Yes, there maybe chemicals on the mushrooms, but at that concentration they seem to be safe. They also may be safe as long a person doesn't eat mushrooms everyday in big amounts; i.e. as long as mushrooms are part of a varied, daily diet. Having said this, I do understand that not all Canadians share my faith in the CFIA! I did an informal survey of the dietitians here and they nor I have not heard of the concern that this blogger raises.

    All to say, I will continue to eat mushrooms. I do eat a variety, although less of the shiitake and oyster because of the cost."

  8. Wideye says:

    This was from a friend who is a nutritionist and NOT an official response from Health Canada but something to add to the conversation. :O)

    "The concern here is the pesticide. My view is that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (which is responsible for overseeing pesticide/contaminant content in our daily food supply) generally does a good job of monitoring contaminants in food. Yes, there maybe chemicals on the mushrooms, but at that concentration they seem to be safe. They also may be safe as long a person doesn't eat mushrooms everyday in big amounts; i.e. as long as mushrooms are part of a varied, daily diet. Having said this, I do understand that not all Canadians share my faith in the CFIA! I did an informal survey of the dietitians here and they nor I have not heard of the concern that this blogger raises.

    All to say, I will continue to eat mushrooms. I do eat a variety, although less of the shiitake and oyster because of the cost."

  9. Krista says:

    I have no problem finding organic mushrooms at my local Kroger — and I don't live in a big metropolitan area. They carry organic crimini and white button mushrooms constantly.

    ~ Krista

  10. Jenn says:

    Mushrooms do grow in manure. I run a horse farm in New Jersey and the mushroom growers from West Chester, PA truck and pay me for the manure. Eat and enjoy, all organic veggies use
    fresh manures as fertilizer.

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