Often overshadowed by brightly colored vegetables that boldly showcase their phytonutrients, the meager mushroom seems to pale in comparison. Yet, the mushroom has rightfully gained a reputation as a nutritional superstar.
Mushrooms that are cultivated in temperature- and humidity-controlled environments are available year-round. Wild mushrooms — some of which have defied attempts at cultivation, including morels and truffles — appear in fall and spring, when mild temperatures and plenty of moisture help them grow. Take caution if you forage for wild mushrooms; go with an expert who can identify different types of mushrooms, especially those that may be unsafe to eat. Often, they are not distinguishable. Plus, toxins produced by mushrooms are not affected by heating, so serious illness or death may occur regardless of if they are eaten raw or cooked. It’s best to rely on reputable suppliers for any type of mushroom intended for consumption.
In the Clinic: Mushrooms are about 90% water, virtually fat free and have approximately 20 calories per 1 cup of raw sliced mushrooms. They also contain varying levels of nutrients. For example, the selenium content of mushrooms ranges from 0.1 micrograms per cup of raw enoki mushrooms to 36 micrograms per cup of cooked shiitakes, with the latter providing 65% of the Daily Value for this trace element.
Most mushrooms also are a good or excellent source of several B-vitamins including riboflavin, pantothenic acid and niacin. They also provide copper and are one of the only plant sources of vitamin D. However, the amount can vary and may not be significant unless they are exposed to ultraviolet light. According to the USDA’s FoodData Central, 1 cup of chanterelle and morel mushrooms can provide 14% and 17% of the Daily Value for vitamin D, respectively, compared to maitake mushrooms, which may provide close to 100% of the DV.
In the Kitchen: Complex flavors and appealing textures make mushrooms a versatile ingredient. Add crunchy raw enokis to salads or soup. Stir-fry almost any fresh mushroom or sauté in oil with garlic and toss with pasta. Top steaks, chicken and omelets with sautéed mushrooms. Creminis, which look like brown button mushrooms, may be oven-roasted with a drizzle of olive oil and eaten hot, or allowed to cool and tossed into salads. Portabellas are large creminis, perfect for brushing with toasted sesame oil and soy sauce and grilled. Dried mushrooms such as porcini and shiitake add flavor to stocks, sauces and risotto. Just cover them with hot water and soak for 15 minutes before using.
For fresh mushrooms, choose those that are firm and smooth and store them in a paper bag for up to a week in the refrigerator. Since mushrooms can absorb water, opinions differ on whether to wash mushrooms or just brush off obvious dirt. Most chefs agree a quick rinse won’t make mushrooms soggy. Plus, for food safety reasons, it is recommended that produce be washed before preparing or eating it. Trim off the stem end before using.
In Quantity: Mushrooms appear on many restaurant menus. Some potential reasons are that substituting mushrooms for more costly proteins may offer a “value added” perception, achieve greater customer satisfaction and potentially increase profitability without adding calories or fat. For example, mushrooms can be used as a substitute for some ground beef in burger recipes. Or, they can add a visual impact of “more” as a topping for steaks and sandwiches. Mushrooms also provide an umami experience, thanks to the presence of glutamate, which is concentrated and more pronounced when using dried mushrooms.
Mushrooms of all types are easy to work with in foodservice. Consider ordering pre-sliced mushrooms to save time and labor. The product is not compromised if used within a few days. Always store them at about 34 degrees Fahrenheit.
Use dried varieties of mushrooms for specialty cooking. Morels, porcinis or other specialty blends offer the great flavor of fresh when rehydrated and also save time. Plus, they have good shelf-lives for long-term storage.
Article updated and adapted from July/August 2008 ADA Times with copy by Janet Helm, MS, RD; Sanna Delmonico, MS, RD, LD; and Alma Kay Nocchi, RD, LD.
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