Beech mushrooms (Hypsizygus tessellatus), or shimeji as they’re 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). Every part 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
Bunashimeji mushrooms come in two color varieties: white and brown. They have a typical mushroom-like flavor, savory and umami in nature. The classic-looking caps add visual appeal, and have earned them the moniker clamshell mushrooms.
Without a doubt, white and brown beech clamshells are a perfect alternative to other mushrooms in your favorite dish. Move over porcini! They’re also a great meat substitute for vegetarians or vegans.
They have a slightly buttery, nutty flavor, and a firm, crunchy texture after cooking. Beech mushrooms tend to produce very soft caps, and brown beech mushrooms have a more bitter taste than other mushroom varieties, such as button mushrooms.
While it is possible to consume beech mushrooms raw, it is not recommended, as cooking increases the bioavailability of nutrients and the ease of digestion.
Beech mushrooms are often enjoyed steamed, baked, or as part of a stir-fry. 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 with olive oil or butter. In fact, this is the preferred preparation method, as no chopping is required (they’re bite-sized as it is)!
The Difference Between White and Brown Beech Mushrooms
White beech mushrooms, also known as Bunapi-shimeji or hon-shimeji, have white small caps with identically colored stems that connect to a thick, inedible base from which the mushrooms grow. They 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, cooked white beech mushrooms are a sweet alternative.
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, as brown beech mushrooms tend toward bitter and classically “mushroom-like” in their flavor profile.
That being said, brown beech mushrooms are traditionally regarded as “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 similar to shiitake, enoki, and oyster mushrooms.
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, but they also contain beta-glucan polysaccharides that are notable immunity boosters and may also deliver some anti-tumor action.
In a Japanese study reported in the journal Nutrition Research, 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 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
If beech mushrooms are a new culinary experience for you, fear not! They’re quite simple to cook with, taste great when stir-fried, 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
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 cooking oil of your choice
- 2 teaspoons Chinese Five Spice
- 2 teaspoons salt
- Chili spice to taste
- Dash of fresh chopped (or 1/2 teaspoon dried coriander) to top
- Preheat the oven to 300 ºF.
- 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.