Beech mushrooms (hypsizygus tessellatus), or shimeji as it’s called in Japanese, are very popular edible mushrooms in East Asian cuisine and culture. The mushroom clusters are often found growing on decaying beech trees; hence, the name beech.
These small, thin-looking mushrooms grow in groups of white edible stems topped by small round mushroom caps that are either pure white (like the stem) or a mottled brown color (brown beech mushrooms). Everything is edible except for the base of the cluster from which the mushrooms should always be cut.
Cultivation of beech mushrooms is a popular method of growth and mass production. They are typically grown in this way, feeding off the sawdust of the beech trees they prefer.
All About the Beech Mushroom
Beech mushrooms come in two color varieties: white and brown. They have a slightly buttery, nutty flavor, and a firm, crunchy texture after cooking. Beech mushrooms tend to produce very soft caps. Brown beech mushrooms are more bitter than others.
While it is possible to consume beech mushrooms raw, it is not recommended. In fact, it’s not recommended to eat any mushrooms raw. Beech mushrooms are often enjoyed steamed, baked, or sautéed in olive oil or butter. They can be chopped or eaten whole. Consider adding them to boiling water to release their umami flavor further and provide more nutrients to your soup or stew.
While the mushrooms grow bunched together, they can easily be separated and tossed into a pan for frying or sautéing. In fact, this is the preferred preparation method, as no chopping is required (they’re bite-sized as it is)!
Beech mushrooms have a typical mushroom-like flavor, savory and umami in nature. Something is appealing visually about the classic looking caps that make them a perfect alternative to other mushrooms in your favorite dish. They’re also a great meat alternative for vegetarians or vegans.
The Difference Between White and Brown Beech Mushrooms
White beech mushrooms, also known as bunashimeji, have white colored small caps with identically colored stems that connect to a thick, inedible base from which the mushrooms grow. White beech mushrooms tend to have a slightly sweeter taste when cooked, although they are sharp and bitter when consumed raw. For those who avoid mushrooms because they don’t like how “bitter” they may be, white beech mushrooms are a sweet alternative.
Brown beech mushrooms tend toward bitter and classically “mushroom-like” in their flavor profile. Although white beech mushrooms are derived from similar fungi as the brown beech, they are often preferred to brown beech mushrooms both for their look and flavor profile.
That being said, the brown beech mushrooms are traditionally regarded as more “gourmet” due to their slightly more intense umami flavor. Brown beech mushrooms are highly versatile and can be used in a wide variety of recipes.
Health Benefits of Beech Mushrooms
It’s worth noting that any health benefits found in beech mushrooms are rendered useless unless the mushrooms are cooked, breaking down the enzymes that allow the nutrients to be absorbed.
Beech mushrooms are rich in protein and contain many of the B vitamins, as well as potassium, zinc, and copper. Like many other mushrooms, beech mushrooms are a remarkable source of dietary fiber.
In a Japanese study reported in the Journal of Medicinal Food, researchers found that mice fed maitake, king trumpet, or beech mushrooms had a lower level of atherosclerosis, which is the process that creates plaque deposits in the arteries, than did mice who were fed a regular diet. The mushrooms are believed to lower triglyceride levels, which contribute to atherosclerosis. Of the three mushrooms used in the study, the beech mushroom provided the most artery protection.
Cooking with Beech Mushrooms
For many western cooks, beech mushrooms can be a new culinary experience. Fear not! They’re quite simple to cook with and provide a ton of umami flavor to whatever you are preparing. It’s important to trim the base of the cluster before cooking with it though, as that section is inedible. Here’s a quick and easy primer recipe for you to test out your culinary skills on some fresh beech mushrooms.
Simple Roasted Beech Mushrooms
Beech mushrooms are delicious edible mushrooms that grow in clusters on fallen beech trees, primarily in East Asia. They are a savory, umami mushroom that is simple to prepare and pairs well with stews, sauces, soups, and even topped on salads. While they are a classically flavored mushroom with an umami taste, it is almost impossible to overcook them. They retain their flavor, shape, and integrity even after many hours.
It’s not recommended to eat raw beech mushrooms for two reasons:
1) They are quite bitter and decidedly hard to eat without having been cooked.
2) Their nutritional composition is unable to be absorbed unless broken down through the process of cooking.
If you’re new to cooking with beech mushrooms, this easy recipe can be an excellent primer to help you familiarize yourself with the tasty fungi.
Ready In: 25 Minutes
- 1 cup brown beech mushrooms
- 1 cup white beech mushrooms
- 1 healthy pour of red wine
- 2 teaspoons peanut oil or oil of your choice
- 2 teaspoons Chinese Five Spice powder
- 2 teaspoons salt
- Chili spice to taste
- Dash of fresh chopped (or 1/2 teaspoon dried coriander) to top
- Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
- Cut the ends of the beech mushrooms. Wash and drain. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, mix the seasonings. Toss the beech mushrooms and combine.
- Line a baking sheet with tin foil and transfer the mixture and mushrooms to the sheet.
- Close the ends of the tinfoil around the mushrooms, and seal shut.
- Bake for 15 minutes.
- When finished, remove the baking sheet, unwrap the tinfoil, and garnish with chili pepper and coriander.
Beech mushrooms: high in protein, dietary fiber, and antioxidants. Believed to help fight heart disease.
Peanut oil: full of healthy fats, peanut oil may help prevent heart disease and lower cholesterol while contributing to heart health.
Chinese Five Spice: full of antioxidants, anti-inflammatory properties, and believed to reduce the risk of cancer.
Red wine: rich in antioxidants, flavonoids, and resveratrol. Each of these powerful antioxidant properties is thought to benefit the heart in different but complementary ways.
Coriander: plentiful in several vitamins and minerals per ounce, including dietary fiber, iron, magnesium, and manganese. Also full of vitamins C and K.
Chili spice: contains vitamin C and antioxidants, and may just help burn fat and boost metabolism.