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)


    The level of pesticides found on commercially grown mushrooms is actually no different than other commercially grown produce items.

    Mushrooms are not simply grown in poop they are grown in a compost and one of the many ingredients is manure.

    Also to add to some of the comments and questions, "poop" is not what is known to attract flys and bugs to mushrooms, octene-ol (a complex alcohol) is naturally found in mushrooms and this is actaully what attracts bugs, which is why pesticides are used.

    What is also interesting is that studies are being/ have been done to see if particular mushrooms have cancer fighting attributes.

    There is no need to change your eating habits when it comes to mushrooms.

  2. susan says:

    All fresh foods that we buy should be washed before we prepare them—mushrooms taste terrific–do some of you really think that MOST of the food you consume has never had a bug on it and that veggies etc. that are grown outside in a field somewhere –(possibly never had a coon pee on the vegetation or that some sort of manure isn't used to grow some of these beautiful foods that we consume?) Seriously—sounds like when you buy milk you believe it JUST comes from the grocery store..We just all need to be careful on anything we consume…and if we all knew everything about all of our food out there–and I mean all of it–well we would starve!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. Ann says:

    Hi, I have a problem with msg and was told to stay away from mushrooms … Is this so

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