Did you know that there are over 10,000 types of mushrooms? While most mushrooms are inedible, meaning they are too tough or poisonous to eat, there is still a large variety of edible mushrooms for us to enjoy. Unfortunately, in most grocery stores, there are only a few that we are familiar with: White Button, Portobello, and Baby Bella or Cremini, which are actually just young Portobellos. Recently, however, you may have noticed a wider variety of mushrooms in your grocery store, like Maitake, Enoki, Porcini, Oyster, Chicken of the Woods, and Shiitake — the mushroom we want to talk about today.
You might know Shiitake best as the little bits of mushroom in your miso soup, which is delicious, but there are so many other ways we can use Shiitake in the kitchen. Let’s learn a little more about where Shiitake comes from and all the ways we can use it.
What Are Shiitake Mushrooms?
Shiitake mushrooms are an edible mushroom native to East Asia. They grow on trees in the wild, but they are also cultivated on logs for commercial sale. The first written account of Shiitake cultivation dates back to the early 1200s during the Southern Song dynasty in China, but it wasn’t until the 1980s that Japan saw cultivation opportunities for these tasty mushrooms in the United States. Shiitake are the most popular variety of East Asian mushroom; today, they are cultivated all over the world, contributing to 25 percent of mushroom production in the world annually.
In terms of flavor, Shiitake have been described as earthy and fragrant with a flavor that is sweet, savory, and umami. Umami, which has been called “the fifth taste,” is a taste sensation that makes everything savory and deeply flavorful. Umami is a flavor that is most commonly associated with cheese, meat, and miso, but cooked mushrooms have umami flavoras well. Shiitake are mostly sold dried, but fresh mushrooms are readily available in many grocery stores. To reconstitute dry Shiitake, simply soak them in hot water for a few minutes.
Shiitake mushrooms are rich in copper, pantothenic acid, selenium, and they are a good source if vitamin B2. Shiitake mushrooms have long been valued for their medicinal properties in traditional Asian medicine, where it was used to aid in digestion and improve circulation. Studies have shown that Shiitake mushrooms may also aid in weight loss, support the immune system, support cardiovascular health, inhibit the growth of cancer cells, and they may have antimicrobial properties.
Shiitake are incredibly versatile mushrooms that can be used in a wide variety of dishes. When using dry Shiitake, remember to soak them in hot water for a few minutes to reconstitute them. The water can be used in place of regular water to make sauces, soups, and stews. Water from soaked Shiitake would be an especially great addition to sauces that already have umami flavor, like this 5-Minute Cheesy Sauce or this Perfect Arrabbiata Sauce.
Before you use your Shiitake, trim the stems — they are too woody to eat but can be saved to make stock for soup, as in this Kitsune Udon. Simply add a few Shiitake stems in when you’re making the kombu dashi broth.
The umami flavor and meaty texture of Shiitake mushrooms make them perfect for meat-free burgers, like these Shiitake Black Bean Burgers or these Lentil, Mushroom, and Walnut Burgers. But, Shiitake can also take the place of meat in other dishes, as in these Shiitake Mushroom Soft Tacos. This Char Siu Pizza is topped with tender, flavorful Shiitake mushroom strips. These savory Onion and Shiitake Tarts use mushrooms in place of a meat filling and this Savory Pumpkin Pie is topped with a Shiitake mushroom streusel that is crumbly and meaty.
While Shiitake mushrooms are typically used for soup in Japanese cuisine, you can incorporate them into any dish you like. These Onigiri Rice Dumplings have a flavorful Shiitake and sweet potato filling while these Raw Sushi Rolls are stuffed with cabbage, sprouts, and marinated Shiitake.
Add Shiitake to soup for a boost of umami flavor, as in this Coconut Carrot Soup With Shiitake, this Shiitake Mushroom Pho, this Soothing Miso Soup, and this Shiitake and Tofu Tom Yum Soup. This Creamy Cauliflower and Celeriac Soup is topped with tender, roasted Shiitake mushrooms.
The naturally chewy texture of Shiitake also makes them great for making Shiitake Bacon, a healthier, plant-based alternative to bacon. You can use it in place of coconut bacon in this Eggy” Breakfast Sandwich, add them to this Portobello and Tofu Scramble Sandwich, or just serve them along with your favorite tofu scramble recipe.
You can also add Shiitake bacon to your dinners, as in this Avocado Pesto Pasta With Shiitake Bacon, this Jalapeño Mac and Cheese Burger With Shiitake Bacon, this Iceberg Wedge Salad With Shiitake Bacon, and this Black Bean Apple Burgers With Shiitake Bacon. There are no rules that limit where you can try Shiitake bacon, so have fun!
And, of course, try swapping small mushrooms in other recipes for Shiitake! See our vegan mushroom recipes page for more ideas.
Ready to try shiitake mushrooms at home? Luckily, their increase in popularity makes them easy to find at most grocery chains. Dried Shiitake are the most common form, but you might also be lucky enough to find fresh mushrooms, especially if you live close to a well-stocked Asian grocery store. If you can’t find Shiitake in your area, you can buy online.
These Mushroom House Dried Shiitake rehydrate quickly for all uses. You can pick up a one-pound bag for about $20. If you would like to try a smaller package to start, try these Havista Dried Shiitake. One 6-ounce bag costs $6.50. Or, go for these Mycological Dried Organic Shiitake Mushrooms. A one-ounce package costs about $5.
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