Foods and their Uses: Shiitake Mushrooms

by Lilly Talal
Part of the Foods and their Uses series

Scientific name: L. edodes (Lentinula edodes)

Description: Mushrooms are a widely available commodity and are consumed for their health-promoting properties as well as their tastiness and culinary versatility. According to Dr. Peter C.K. Cheung, editor of Mushrooms as Functional Foods, mushrooms are a type of fungi – neither a plant nor an animal. Fungi are different from plants because they do not contain chlorophyll, the green pigment that allows plants to undergo photosynthesis from sunlight. Instead, fungi absorb nutrients from the external environment in which they live.

A 1992 article appearing in Mycologist (now Fungal Biology Reviews) defined a mushroom as “a type of macrofungus [fungi] with a distinctive fruiting body, which can be either epigeous [growing close to the ground] or hypogeous [living or maturing underground] and large enough to be seen with naked eye and to be picked by hand”. 

According to an infographic by Oregon State University Extension Services, the shiitake mushroom has an umbrella-shaped pileus (cap) that is tan to brown in color. The edges of the cap roll down and inwards towards the whitish, cream-colored gills on the underside of the cap. The stipe (stem) of the shiitake is also white or cream, but can turn brown as the mushroom matures.

Nutrients: Shiitake mushrooms contain plant protein (26 percent of their dry weight), dietary fiber, B vitamins, ergosterol (the precursor to vitamin D), and several minerals.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), 100g of raw shiitake mushrooms contain:

  • 34 calories 
  • 0.5 g of fat (primarily linoleic acid, a polyunsaturated essential fatty acid)
  • 2.2 g of protein
  • 6.8 g of carbohydrates (2.4 g of sugar, 2.5 g of dietary fiber, and 1.9 g of complex carbohydrates)
  • 0 g of saturated fat
  • 0 mg of animal cholesterol

Shiitake mushrooms are also high in vitamins and minerals including:

  • B vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B5, and B6) 
  • Folate
  • Ergosterol – the biological precursor to vitamin D (shiitakes contain 0.40 mcg, which is 2% of one’s daily value (DV) for vitamin D). 
  • Copper (Cu) – 0.14 mg (16% DV)
  • Iron (Fe) – 0.41 mg (2% DV)
  • Magnesium (Mg) – 20 mg (5% DV)
  • Manganese (Mn) – 0.23 mg (10% DV)
  • Phosphorus (P) – 112 mg (9% DV)
  • Potassium (K) – 204 mg (6% DV)
  • Selenium (Se) – 5.7 mcg (10% DV)
  • Zinc (Zn) – 1.03 mg (9% DV)

In addition to their nutritive content, shiitakes contain several important bioactive compounds  that have immunomodulatory, lipid-lowering, antimicrobial, and antioxidant properties. These include: 

  • Lentinan (a β-(1-3)-glucan/polysaccharide)
  • Lentinus edodes mycelium (LEM)
  • Eritadenine
  • Ergothioneine (an amino acid that can act as an antioxidant). 

Of these, the lentinan is the most studied and well-documented.

Geographic origin: Shiitake mushrooms are largely cultivated in China, Japan, and other Asian countries and, according to Dr. Cheung, they are among the most popular edible mushrooms in the world because of their taste and nutritional value. 

According to WHFoods.com, China is the world’s largest producer of shiitake mushrooms, supplying 80-90% of those commercially sold. However, many other countries, including Korea, Japan, Brazil, and the United States,produce smaller amounts of these mushrooms. On a global basis, approximately 150,000 tons of shiitake mushrooms are produced each year.

History of use as medicine: 

Mushrooms have been found in fossilized wood that is estimated to be 300 million years old, and there is evidence that prehistoric humans collected mushrooms in the wild as food. The desert truffle, Terfezia arnanari, is described in the Bible as “bread from heaven” and also “manna of the Israelites.

In addition to being a culinary delicacy, shiitakes have a history of being used as medicine in Asia for more than 2000 years. 

In 1969, Professor Tetsuro Ikekawa et al. noted that aqueous extracts from shiitakes inhibited the growth of transplanted tumors in mice. In 1970, Professor Goro Chihara et al. isolated an antitumor polysaccharide from shiitakes and named it lentinan. Lentinan has been found to activate macrophages, T lymphocytes, and other immune cells that modulate the release of cytokines, which may account for the mushrooms’ indirect antitumor and antimicrobial properties.

Current uses: 

Extracts and pure compounds of shiitake exhibit antibacterial, antifungal, cytostatic (inhibiting cell growth and division), antioxidant, anticancer, and immunomodulatory activity. Because of these attributes, different products derived from shiitake mushrooms are on the market and are sold as dietary supplements. The traditional starting material for shiitake production is oak wood, yet the search for unconventional growing materials has intensified over the past three decades. In particular, submerged cultivation of medicinal mushrooms has attracted great interest because it enables greater control of different fermentation factors to obtain specialized products. However, it is necessary to perform in vivo studies to determine the appropriate doses, side effects, and action spectrum of different bioactive compounds on animals and humans. 

All mushrooms are rich in anti-inflammatory components including polysaccharides, phenolic and indolic compounds, mycosteroids, fatty acids, carotenoids, vitamins, and minerals. Metabolites from mushrooms of the Basidiomycota taxon (which includes shiitakes) possess antioxidant, anticancer, and most significantly, anti-inflammatory properties

Based on the discovery that many fungi produce a range of metabolites that are of great interest to both the pharmaceutical and food industries (e.g. flavor compounds). Present-day mushroom production  is based on two main components: the application of traditional, although modernized, techniques for growing the mushrooms themselves, and the application of modern biological techniques to the production of mushroom derivatives, such as nutraceuticals and dietary supplements. Products both from mushrooms and from mushroom derivatives are thought to have a positive global impact on long-term nutrition, human health, environmental conservation and regeneration, and economic and social change.

Uses of shiitake mushrooms include complementary medicine/dietary supplements for anticancer, antiviral, immunopotentiating, hypocholesterolemic, and hepatoprotective agents. This new class of compounds, termed mushroom nutriceuticals, are extractable from either the mushroom mycelium (the vegetative part of the fungus, which consists of a network of fine white filaments or hyphae) or the mushroom itself and represent an important component of the expanding mushroom biotechnology industry. 

Studies have demonstrated that consistent intake of either mushrooms or mushroom nutriceuticals (dietary supplements) can improve one’s health. In addition, mushroom cultivation can convert agricultural and forest waste into useful matter and reduce pollution in the environment as shiitake mushrooms are able to digest hardwood, such as oak, and use the resulting products as nutrients for their own growth. Therefore, mushroom cultivation has the potential to result in three beneficial impacts: production of healthy food, development of nutraceuticals, and reduction of environmental pollution.

Potential negative effects: 

There is a general consensus that mushrooms can be considered safe for human consumption because of their long history of inclusion in the human diet. However, many of the dietary supplements and nutraceuticals derived from shiitake and other types of mushrooms are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so caution must be exercised when consuming supplements made from shiitake or other types of mushrooms. 

To date, there have not been many reported adverse effects from edible mushrooms. That said, research in this area has been relatively limited because most of the studies included few participants, had limited follow-up, and lacked standardization in dietary procedures. Additionally, as compared to medications assessed in clinical trials, dietary mushrooms are typically consumed in relatively large quantities, in different combinations, and/or for an extended period of time, which complicates the ability to draw definitive conclusions regarding the efficacy of shiitake mushrooms in humans. 

Additional factors that complicate drawing definitive conclusions include the extraction of whole functional foods compared to complex derivatives with the effects of pure compounds. While several studies of the effects of mushrooms have been performed in cell lines and animal models, such as mice or rats, human clinical trials are relatively limited in number and small in sample size. In addition, the large number of factors evaluated make drawing significant conclusions difficult without sufficient statistical power, given the small number of participants enrolled in these studies. 

In rare cases, consumption of raw or undercooked shiitake mushrooms can result in a skin rash  that is likely caused by lentinan, a heat-inactivated beta-glucan polysaccharide. Cases were initially reported in Japan but have now been documented in other Asian countries, North America, South America, and Europe. 

Purchasing, storage, and cooking tips: 

Cooked mushrooms are known for their characteristic savory, meaty, umami taste, which results from their high content of both glutamic acid and the nucleotides IMP and GMP. 

According to Elizabeth Bomze of CooksIllustrated.com, here are some tips for shopping, storing, and cooking: 

Purchasing

  • Buy individual or loose mushrooms rather than packaged mushrooms so you can inspect their condition closely
  • Pay attention to the following qualities:
    • Cap size and condition: Whole and intact with no discoloration or dry, shriveled patches. Pick mushrooms with large caps and minimal stems.
    • Moisture: Faintly damp but not moist and especially not slimy.
    • Texture: Springy and light—never spongy.
    • Aroma: Intensely sweet and earthy. Avoid mushrooms that smell sour or fishy.
  • Shiitake mushrooms in particular: 
    • Flavor: Nutty, buttery
    • Texture: Pleasantly chewy
    • Price: $$
    • Best way to cook: Sauté
    • Tip: Look for smaller specimens with thick caps and edges that curl under the caps.

Storage 

  • Maximizing the shelf life of mushrooms is about balancing air circulation with moisture retention.
  • Loose or Individual Mushrooms: Store in a partially open zip-lock bag, which maximizes air circulation without drying them out. Leaving the bag slightly open allows ethylene gas emitted from the mushrooms to be released, prolonging their shelf life.
  • Packaged Mushrooms: Store in their original containers, which are designed to let them “breathe,” maximizing the mushrooms’ shelf life by balancing the retention of moisture and the release of ethylene gas. If you open a sealed package of mushrooms but do not use all the contents, rewrap the remaining contents in the box with plastic wrap and poke a few holes in the plastic wrap to allow moisture to escape.
  • DO NOT wrap mushrooms in a paper bag or cover them with a damp paper towel. Both techniques speed up their deterioration
  • Shelf-life: Due to their high moisture content, fresh mushrooms are very perishable. However, if properly stored, they can last at least a week.
  • How to Know When Mushrooms Go Bad: 
    • Slimy film on the cap and/or stem
    • Mushy texture
    • Dark discoloration 
    • Putrid odor (sour or fishy)

Cooking Tips

  • Is washing mushrooms required? That question has been the subject of debate among many cooks, since any water that mushrooms absorb during washing prevents browning and prolongs their cooking time. 
  • CooksIllustrated.com tested how much water was absorbed by different types of mushrooms by weighing them before and after washing. 
  • The results: 
    • Mushrooms with exposed gills (e.g., portobello and shiitake) absorb lots of water, so it is best to avoid washing these varieties. Instead, simply brush off any dirt with a pastry brush or dry paper towel
    • Varieties that don’t contain exposed gills did not soak up much water, so it is acceptable to wash them as long as it is before cutting them; their exposed flesh will absorb water like a sponge. 
  • For shiitake mushrooms in particular, it is best to remove the stems and quarter large caps or halve smaller caps before cooking.

Recipes: 

  1. How to Prepare and Cook Shiitake Mushrooms (+Recipe for soy-glazed shiitake mushrooms) by Keri Bevan
  2. Shiitake Mushrooms Recipe (Quick & Easy) by Natalya Drozhzhin
  3. Baked Shiitake Mushrooms by Rachel Benight MS, RD
  4. How to Cook Shiitake Mushrooms (+Recipe for sauteed, whole shiitake mushrooms) by Karlynn Johnston 
  5. Roasted Shiitake Mushrooms by Aysegul Sanford
  6. 30 Easy Shiitake Mushroom Recipes That’ll Make Your Dinner (or Brunch) Totally Wow-Worthy by Lisa Milbrand
  7. Caramelized Shiitake Mushroom Risotto by the Minimalist Baker
  8. 7 Delicious, Healthy Ways to Cook With Shiitake Mushrooms Tonight by Emily Laurence 
  9. Shiitake Mushroom Recipes by Food & Wine Magazine
  10. Corn and Shiitake Fritters by Grace Parisi of Food & Wine Magazine
  11. 17 Shiitake Mushroom Recipes by Cassie Marshall
  12. Sauteed Shiitake Mushrooms by Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer of Bon Appetit 
  13. Soy-Glazed Shiitake Mushrooms by Kay Chun of Bon Appetit 
  14. How to Make Shiitake Mushroom Bacon Recipe by the Delicious Life

Learn more: 

Informational Websites: 

  1. Nutrient Profile of 100g of raw shiitake mushrooms. by NutritionValue.org. In partnership with the USDA; data is taken from USDA National Nutrient Database)
  2. Infographic on Shiitake Mushrooms and how to cultivate them for small woodland owners. by Oregon State University Extension Services. Extension work is a cooperative program of Oregon State University, the USDA, and Oregon counties. 
  3. Shiitake Mushrooms: 9 Scientifically Proven Benefits You Need to Know About by Christine Ruggeri, CHHC
  4. Shiitake Mushroom Profile by the Mushroom Council 
  5. Why Shiitake Mushrooms Are Good for You by Healthline
  6. Integrative Medicine: Shiitake Mushroom by Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center 
  7. Shiitake Mushroom – Uses, Side Effects, and More by WebMD
  8. Mushrooms 101: Benefits, Side Effects, Nutrition, Types, and More by Jessica Migala
  9. Does eating mushrooms protect brain health? by Dr. Maria Cohut
  10. 5 Reasons You Should Eat Shiitake Mushrooms by Kerri-Ann Jennings
  11. Mushrooms, Shiitake by World’s Healthiest Foods 
  12. The Complete Guide to Starting a Mushroom Farm by Freshcap.com 
  13. Shiitake Mushroom Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits by Rachel MacPherson, BA, CPT of Verywellfit.com

News articles: 

  1. Popadelics™ Crunchy Shiitake Mushroom Chips Debuts at the 2022 Summer Fancy Food Show by Fun Gal Snacks LLC
  2. Why Shiitake Mushrooms are Good for You by Kerri-Ann Jennings, MS, RD 
  3. Shiitake Mushrooms: Nutritional Information, Benefits, And Side Effects by Aparna Mallampalli, BEd, MS 
  4. CookIllustrated.com’s Guide to Fresh Mushrooms by Elizabeth Bomze
  5. Mushroom Magic by Mark Bittman of the New York Times 
  6. 15 Reasons Why Shiitakes are the King of All Mushrooms by Miki Kawasaki 

Peer-reviewed articles:

Treatment of Chronic Diseases:

  1. Motta F, Gershwin ME, Selmi C. Mushrooms and immunity. J Autoimmun. 2021;117:102576. doi:10.1016/j.jaut.2020.102576 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33276307/ 
  2. Martel J, Ojcius DM, Chang CJ, et al. Anti-obesogenic and antidiabetic effects of plants and mushrooms. Nat Rev Endocrinol. 2017;13(3):149-160. doi:10.1038/nrendo.2016.142 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27636731/ 
  3. Spim SRV, Pistila AMH, Pickler TB, Silva MT, Grotto D. Effects of Shiitake Culinary-Medicinal Mushroom, Lentinus edodes (Agaricomycetes), Bars on Lipid and Antioxidant Profiles in Individuals with Borderline High Cholesterol: A Double-Blind Randomized Clinical Trial. Int J Med Mushrooms. 2021;23(7):1-12. doi:10.1615/IntJMedMushrooms.2021038773 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34375514/ 
  4. Shang A, Gan RY, Xu XY, Mao QQ, Zhang PZ, Li HB. Effects and mechanisms of edible and medicinal plants on obesity: an updated review. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2021;61(12):2061-77. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32462901/ 
  5. Tung YT, Pan CH, Chien YW, Huang HY. Edible Mushrooms: Novel Medicinal Agents to Combat Metabolic Syndrome and Associated Diseases. Curr Pharm Des. 2020;26(39):4970-81. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32867640/ 
  6. Yu S, Wu X, Ferguson M, Simmen RC, Cleves MA, Simmen FA, et al. Diets Containing Shiitake Mushroom Reduce Serum Lipids and Serum Lipophilic Antioxidant Capacity in Rats. J Nutr. 2016;146(12):2491-6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27798348/ 
  7. Murphy EJ, Rezoagli E, Major I, Rowan NJ, Laffey JG. beta-Glucan Metabolic and Immunomodulatory Properties and Potential for Clinical Application. J Fungi (Basel). 2020;6(4):356. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33322069/ 
  8. Fukushima M, Ohashi T, Fujiwara Y, Sonoyama K, Nakano M. Cholesterol-lowering effects of maitake (Grifola frondosa) fiber, shiitake (Lentinus edodes) fiber, and enokitake (Flammulina velutipes) fiber in rats. Exp Biol Med (Maywood). 2001;226(8):758-65. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11520942/ 

Chemical Composition: 

  1. Islam T, Ganesan K, Xu B. New Insight into Mycochemical Profiles and Antioxidant Potential of Edible and Medicinal Mushrooms: A Review. Int J Med Mushrooms. 2019;21(3):237-251. doi:10.1615/IntJMedMushrooms.2019030079 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31002608/ 
  2. Gaitan-Hernandez R, Lopez-Pena D, Esqueda M, Gutierrez A. Review of Bioactive Molecules Production, Biomass, and Basidiomata of Shiitake Culinary-Medicinal Mushrooms, Lentinus edodes (Agaricomycetes). Int J Med Mushrooms. 2019;21(9):841-50. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32450024/ 
  3. Chang R. Functional properties of edible mushrooms. Nutr Rev. 1996;54(11 Pt 2):S91-3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9110582/
  4. Muszynska B, Grzywacz-Kisielewska A, Kala K, Gdula-Argasinska J. Anti-inflammatory properties of edible mushrooms: A review. Food Chem. 2018;243:373-81. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29146352/ 
  5. Cheah, I. K., & Halliwell, B. (2021). Ergothioneine, recent developments. Redox biology, 42, 101868. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.redox.2021.101868 

Side Effects: 

  1. Stephany MP, Chung S, Handler MZ, Handler NS, Handler GA, Schwartz RA. Shiitake Mushroom Dermatitis: A Review [published correction appears in Am J Clin Dermatol. 2016 Dec;17 (6):709]. Am J Clin Dermatol. 2016;17(5):485-489. doi:10.1007/s40257-016-0212-6 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27566177/

Books: 

  1. Peter C. Cheung (2008). Mushrooms as Functional Foods. Ukraine: Wiley. https://www.wiley.com/en-us/Mushrooms+as+Functional+Foods-p-9780470054062 
  2. Baumann, N., Andres, S. (2012). Mushrooms: Types, Properties and Nutrition. United States: Nova Science Publishers. https://www.amazon.com/Mushrooms-Properties-Nutrition-Microbiology-Research/dp/1614701105 

Cookbooks: 

  1. Shiitake Mushrooms Recipes: A Collection Of Tasty Recipes For Daily Meals by Bryon Uhles (March 11, 2022) 
  2. The Shiitake Way: Vegetarian Cooking with Shiitake Mushrooms by Jennifer Snyder (January 1, 1993) 

What social media is saying: 

  1. Introducing: Popadelics Crunchy Mushroom Chips! by Popadelics on TikTok
  2. Boost Your Immune System with Shiitake Mushrooms by Dr. Dan Gubler on TikTok
  3. Vitamin D & Mushrooms by Dr. Dan Gubler on TikTok
  4. Shiitake Mushrooms Heavy Metal Detoxification by MrsRogersHood on TikTok
  5. Garlicky Oven Roasted Shiitake Mushrooms by CollensCooking on TikTok
  6. 5 Health Benefits of Shiitake Mushrooms by Mush_More on TikTok

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