Mushrooms are a wonder food. There are more than 2500 varieties in cultivation. They are easy to cook, low in calories and good for your health. Enjoy the many types of mushrooms in your favorite recipes. Learn about cultivated, wild and magic mushrooms.
Getting to Know Mushrooms
White Button Mushroom
A mushroom is the fleshy body of a fungus growing above ground. Mushrooms usually have a stem, a cap and gills on the underside of the cap. Mushroom caps are actually the fruit of the plant. All mushrooms grow from microscopic spores, rather than seeds. Because mushrooms have no chlorophyll, they must get all their nutrients from the organic matter in their growing medium.
The best known variety is the white button mushroom. Shitake, portobella and oyster mushrooms are widely available. Your grocery store may also carry other varieties like the crimini, porcini, maitake and enoki. Most mushrooms in supermarkets have been grown commercially on mushroom farms in controlled, sterilized environments. Gourmet shops may also carry mushrooms that grow in the wild in forests, like the thin-stemmed enoki, the very black black trumper, the wrinkly meaty maitake and the aromatic porcini.
You can grow your own mushrooms at home. Do-it-yourself kits provide the substrate material on which the mushrooms grow, and the spores or seeds that start the fungus growth. Grow them in a cool spot out of direct sunlight and water regularly, for a supply of fresh mushrooms that will last for months. Most mushrooms do not grow in the dark, except the button mushrooms. The enoki, shitake and oyster varieties of mushrooms are the easiest to grow.
Mushroom Types and Varieties
- White button mushrooms make up 90% of all mushrooms sold in the United States. They have a mild taste that complements a raw salad. They can be sliced and sautéed for pizza, pasta, quesadillas or cheeseburgers.
The large portabella mushrooms are mature criminis that are allowed to grow for up to a week longer. Their deep, meaty texture and flavor makes them ideal to grill, broil or roast. They make a delicious burger.
- Crimini mushrooms have a light brown cap and a firm texture. They are sometimes called “baby bella’s.” They work well with beef, wild game and vegetables.
- Maitake are rippling and fan-shaped, without caps. They bring a distinctive aroma and a rich, woodsy taste to your cooking. They are also called “Hen of the Woods.”
- Shiitakes are tan to dark brown and have broad, umbrella-shaped caps, wide open veils, tan gills. They are best when cooked and added to stir-fry, pasta, and soups.
Enoki mushrooms have tiny, button-shaped caps and long, spindly stems. They are often used in Asian cooking. Enoki have a mild taste that can be enjoyed raw in salads and sandwiches. Enoki mushrooms are often added to an Asian soup stock made with soy sauce and tofu.
- The oyster mushroom can be gray, pale yellow or even blue. It has a delicate flavor and a velvety texture.
Some mushroom lovers enjoy searching the woods for prized wild varieties of mushrooms, such as morels, truffles and chanterelles. However, there are thousands of varieties of inedible and poisonous mushrooms. It is important to seek the guidance of a trained mycologist, or mushroom expert, before you eat any wild mushrooms. Poisonous mushrooms often resemble edible mushrooms, so for safety’s sake, purchase commercially grown mushrooms. If you want to try wild varieties, buy them from a retail store or restaurant.
Cooking with Mushrooms
Mushroom Veggie Pasta Recipe
Mushrooms, the fabulous fungus, make a delicious addition to many dishes. The flavors of mushrooms range from delicate to robust. Vegetarians enjoy mushrooms as a substitute for meat. Because of their chewy texture and intense flavor, they are called “fake steak.”
For mushrooms, the simplest recipe is probably the best. Sauté any variety of sliced mushrooms with a little oil and shallot. over medium-high heat for about 8-10 minutes, turning once when they become a rich red-brown color.
Cooks suggest that mushrooms be cleaned by gently rubbing the caps with a damp cloth or soft brush. If you rinse mushrooms in water, they can become soft and mushy. You can’t freeze raw mushrooms because they wilt, but cooked mushrooms freeze well.
Dried mushrooms have a more intense and meatier flavor than fresh. Dried porcini and dried morels are often available. Soak them in water for 20 minutes, and then add them to a sauce or include them along with fresh mushrooms.
For a delicious pasta dish, sauté mushrooms until almost done, add broccolini, diced onion, spinach leaves, grape tomatoes, prepared pesto and vegetable broth. When the vegetables are simmering, add cooked spaghetti and garnish with Parmesan cheese.
Mushroom Recipes for Cooking
Mushroom Burgers Recipe
The hefty portabella mushrooms make a delicious burger. Remove the stem, marinate it in a vinaigrette for 30 minutes and cook the portabella on the grill or in a grill pan for about 8 minutes, turning once. Serve it on a bun with lettuce, onion and tomato
Put sautéed mushrooms on your pizza for more flavor. Top a grilled cheese sandwich with sauteed mushrooms. Serve a sliced shitake mushroom sauce over your favorite meat or poultry. Put nutty-flavored morel mushrooms in a cheese quiche or tart. Fill brown cremini mushrooms with scrambled eggs at a gourmet brunch. Mushrooms are great with vegetables and in a stir-fry. Add them to soups, stews or sauces. Try a mushroom sauté over linquine with sliced steak and red peppers, sprinkled with grated Romano cheese.
Mushrooms for Health and Nutrition
Mushrooms are a wonder food. They are nutritional treasures, low in fat, low in calories, but rich in vitamin B complex and antioxidants. Mushrooms are one of the few natural sources of vitamin D, which is essential for healthy bones and teeth. Mushrooms are also a good source of the B vitamins riboflavin (B2) for healthy red blood cells, niacin (B3) for healthy skin, digestion and nervous system, and pantothenic acid (B5) for hormone production and a healthy nervous system. . These vitamins help break down proteins, fats and carbohydrates so they can be used for energy. Mushrooms can be an important source of B-vitamins for people who don’t eat meat. Mushrooms are one of the best plant-based sources of niacin available.
In addition, mushrooms are a natural antibiotic, antiviral and anti-inflammatory. Both cooked and raw, mushrooms provide ergothineine, a powerful antioxidant that helps the body’s cells combat free-radical damage. Pound for pound, white button mushrooms have 12 times as much of this antioxidant as wheat germ.
New research also found out that mushrooms play a role in fighting cancer, autoimmune diseases and obesity. A number of mushroom varieties are being studied for their anti-cancer, anti-viral and immunity-enhancing properties. The turkey tail mushroom is likely to suppress tumor growth in breast cancer patients. The oyster mushroom may reduce the levels of LDL, or bad cholesterol in AIDS patients. Research also shows that maitake mushrooms may boost the immune function, lower blood pressure and improve glucose metabolism in diabetics.
Varieties of mushrooms with a substance called psilocybin possess natural psychedelic, or mind-altering, properties. They bring on hallucinogenic visions and mystical experiences. These so called “magic mushrooms” were used in native medicine in various cultures, but they are outlawed in some countries. Scientists are now studing the active ingredient in magic mushrooms for its ability to help people with migraine headaches, mental disease, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.