Shiitake mushrooms have been cultivated for more than 800 years, primarily in East Asia, and account for more than a quarter of all mushroom cultivation around the world. Is their popularity due to taste or all the shiitake mushroom health benefits? We think it’s fair to say…both!
Shiitake translates from Japanese to black mushroom or oakwood mushroom.
Shiitake mushrooms are a multifaceted mushroom used for medicinal purposes and in cuisine. They tend to be thick and hearty in texture and can be a replacement for meat in vegetarian or vegan dishes, or served deliciously right alongside meat for an extra boost of umami flavor.
But beyond this, shiitakes boast a number of health benefits that are becoming increasingly known within the scientific community, making it an ideal mushroom to include in your diet.
The Shiitake Mushroom
Shiitake mushrooms are generally tan or brown in color and have an earthy/smokey flavor. They grow on the base of decaying trees and stack upon one another, often creating an escalating mound of mushrooms. They’re often found growing on the shii tree, which is common in Japan, although they can be found growing on the decaying matter of many other trees, including chestnut, beech, poplar, oak, maple, and mulberry.
Shiitake mushrooms are the second most popular mushroom in the world, just behind button/cremini mushrooms. But they’ve been a steady fixture in Japanese and Asian cuisine for centuries, with reports of them being used medicinally in the Ming Dynasty between 1369 and 1644.
Shiitake Mushroom Nutrition
Shiitake mushrooms are rich in B vitamins, as well as iron, phosphorus, manganese, zinc, and vitamins C and D. They are loaded with dietary fiber and antioxidants, including alkaloids, phenols, and diterpenoids.
Shiitake Mushroom Health Benefits
Shiitake mushrooms boast a myriad of health benefits, including improving skin health and bone strength, as well as reducing inflammation and improving circulation. Let’s break down why even eating a few mushrooms a day can help you improve your overall health and wellness.
For starters, they’re nutritionally dense and low in calories. Asian alternative medicine practitioners have been using shiitake mushrooms for centuries as part of their routine treatment. Now, scientists are finding that some of the claims they make may have actual health benefits that can be quantified and repeated through peer reviewed studies.
Shiitake Mushrooms for Weight Loss
Shiitake mushrooms are an excellent choice for weight-conscious people. There are 35 calories in 100 grams of shiitake mushrooms. The low-calorie profile, compounded by the strong antioxidant level, may help to boost your immune system and stimulate your circulation and metabolism during a weight-loss routine.
Shiitake Mushrooms Reduce Inflammation
In a 2015 study conducted by the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, researchers discovered that shiitake mushroom medicinal properties long described in East Asian medicine might actually have the backing of scientific evidence. That is to say, a significant reduction in inflammation was observed with the introduction of shiitake mushrooms. This can lead to relief for people dealing with osteoarthritis, migraines, and even inflammatory bowel conditions.
Shiitake Mushrooms Improve Circulation
Copper is an important mineral that can improve and maintain proper circulation. One of the more overlooked minerals, its presence in mushrooms can be a delicious way to help keep the blood flowing. Speaking of blood, shiitake mushrooms are also high in iron, which is essential to the production of and maintenance of red blood cells. And amazingly, one half cup of shiitake mushrooms has 70% of the daily recommended value of copper that your body requires.
Shiitake Mushrooms Help Prevent Cancer
Shiitake mushrooms have been found to help prevent certain types of cancer, including colon cancer, according to a study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. They’ve also been found to promote cell apoptosis, which is also known as “cell death.” The cells are actually killed by the presence of the nutrients and minerals found in shiitake mushrooms. In this case, the healthy cells are spared and the cancerous cells are targeted.
Shiitake Mushrooms For Digestion
A study in Technologia Alimentaria found that eating a small or moderate amount of dried shiitake mushrooms can positively impact your gut bacteria, thereby improving digestion and possibly the absorption rate of essential minerals and nutrients such as calcium and iron.
Shiitake Mushrooms Improve Energy
Shiitake mushrooms are rich in B vitamins, including B6, B3, and B2. They are also abundant in folate and pantothenic acid, which help to regulate the body’s metabolism and energy reserves. The large wealth of copper in shiitake mushrooms also contributes to metabolism improvements.
Shiitake Mushrooms May Boost the Immune System
Shiitakes contain several antioxidants including phenolic compounds, vitamins C and A, and several diterpenoids. These contribute to the body’s natural ability to find, neutralize, and expel harmful free radicals before they are able to develop into diseases. These same antioxidants also help improve the immune system by speeding up the response time to potentially harmful bacteria or viruses.
Shiitake Mushrooms May Help Lower Cholesterol
The antioxidants in shiitake mushrooms have been found to inhibit the production of “bad” cholesterol in the liver and can even help prevent plaque from building up on the lining of arteries and blood vessels. This effect can also decrease blood pressure. In fact this study in the Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology suggests that by introducing shiitake mushrooms into a diet, a person’s risk for hypertension can decrease as evidenced in spontaneously hypertensive rats.
Shiitake Mushrooms in Meals
Shiitake mushrooms are one of the most versatile mushrooms on the planet. While they are certainly delicious to flavor any savory dish, they are most often used as a main or complementary ingredient in Asian cuisine. Shiitake mushrooms can be eaten raw or cooked, and are flavorful in soups, salads, stir-fries, or mixed in an omelette or with scrambled eggs or curries.
Dried shiitake mushrooms can produce a far more intense flavor, making a little go a long way, and are a great option when fresh is not available.
Caution for Mushrooms
Consuming any mushrooms comes with a note of caution. For some people, consuming fresh or cooked mushrooms can cause stomach issues or bleeding disorders. If you’re new to eating shiitake mushrooms, try a few at first to make sure your body and immune system can handle them. Give it time as well, as some mushrooms don’t present symptoms until a few days later.
Web MD published a comprehensive list of risks associated with consuming shiitake mushrooms here.