Edible mushrooms and their extraordinary benefits


Part 1: Mushrooms for food

Mushrooms are a low-calorie, low-fat food with moderate fibre and nutrients.  But, mushrooms have very unique characteristics and benefits that make them extraordinary.

Did you know that, although they are considered part of the plant kingdom, they are not classified as an animal food or a plant food?

They are actually a type of mushroom that contains a substance called ergosterol, the structure of which is similar to cholesterol in animals.  The ergosterol present in mushrooms is converted into vitamin D2 when it comes into contact with ultraviolet light. The concentration of vitamin D2 in mushrooms depends on how long they have been exposed to the sun.

Another fun fact: do you know what umami is?

In Chinese medicine umami is considered the fifth basic taste, along with sweet, bitter, salty and sour.  It is a taste created by glutamates present in food preparations such as meats, cheeses, soy sauce and ferments.  You may know that mushrooms are one of the few plant foods that contain a strong umami taste.

You may have heard or read about monosodium glutamate, a flavour enhancer used in many oriental preparations.  In some people, its consumption may cause temporary symptoms of headache, flushing or even chest pain.

Nutritional benefits of edible mushrooms

Let me introduce Paul Stamets, founder and research director of Fungi Perfecti, Olympia, WA.  It is thanks to him that much valuable information has been gleaned from the different types of mushrooms and fungi. 

To begin with, mushrooms contain polysaccharides which are complex carbohydrates made up of multiple simple sugars and which play an important role in the formation of organic structures and supporting tissues, especially in vegetables. One of the polysaccharides in mushrooms is a type of soluble fibre called beta-glucan which activates areas of the immune system such as macrophages in the lymphatic system, increasing the human body's ability to fight infection and even stop tumours from growing as experiments on breast cancer patients are showing. (study)

"What defines a species is its unique molecular architecture. Although all fungi have certain compounds in common, they are never exactly the same," explains Stamets. Imagine fungi as little miniature chemical factories that produce a huge variety of exotic compounds. "Some compounds are common to several groups of mushrooms, but many of them are unique to the species in which they are found. Other medicinally active compounds in mushrooms include glycoproteins, ergosterols, triterpenes and antibiotics.

According to Paul Stamets, it is not just beta-glucans that stimulate an immune response. Mushrooms are immune modulators, which tend to bring the immune system back to a state of normality without causing over-stimulation. They are natural substances that tend to have a very high molecular weight, so they require digestion to be broken down," he said. "As the compounds are digested, they break down into lower molecular weight sub-constituents. It is that pathway of breaking down these large molecular complexes into smaller units that creates a cascade of sub-constituents that, used individually in concert, activate the immune system. For this reason, if a consumer seeks to strengthen his or her immune system, a multiplicity of mushrooms activates many more receptor sites in the immune system.

Several research studies have shown that shiitake mushrooms help control cholesterol levels.  These mushrooms, in particular, reportedly contain compounds that inhibit the production of cholesterol, modulate its absorption and reduce the total level of cholesterol in the blood (article).


In 80 grams (about ¾ cup) of mushrooms you will find:

6 calories. 0.6 grams of fibre; 0.2 grams of sugars; 0.8 grams of protein and 0.2 grams of fat.

Mushrooms contain essential minerals such as manganese, zinc, copper, iron, magnesium and selenium.  They also contain potassium, sulphur and B vitamins such as B1, B2, B3, B5, B9 and especially B6.

The mineral selenium present in Portobello mushrooms in particular, helps the body to produce antioxidant enzymes, preventing cell damage.

Because of their B-complex vitamin content, mushrooms allow you to absorb energy from the food you eat more efficiently and produce more red blood cells that carry oxygen to every corner of your body.


How to eat mushrooms

Mushrooms are quite a versatile food.  They can be eaten either raw or cooked, but as I said above, they have a high molecular weight so cooking would allow for better absorption of their nutrients.  Here are some ideas:

Garlic mushrooms


The one I personally use the most is to sauté mushrooms in a little olive oil with a little garlic and chopped chives, which can be used as a side dish or main course. The mushrooms that can be used for the preparation are small Portobello mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms, or ordinary mushrooms (white or brown). The recipe works with all of them.


Shiitake mushrooms in the wok


In the wok stir-fried with other vegetables used in oriental preparations such as broccoli, mung bean sprouts and carrots, and combined with Chinese noodles and teriyaki or Tamari sauce, for example.


Here I have prepared them on a bed of Chinese-style shiratake noodles (Konjac or Glucomannan) and accompanied by a protein to taste.  In the photo it is accompanied with okara tempeh. See the recipe on my Youtube channel.


Stuffed mushrooms


Mushrooms stuffed with legume pesto (a mixture of olive oil, dried and fresh tomato flakes, chopped basil and thyme; a little lupine flour and nutritional yeast). These can be Portobello mushrooms that have the stems removed and chopped.  Set the buttons aside.

Then, in a frying pan, melt a little butter and mix with chopped garlic, if possible, mashed.  Add the vegetable pesto, season to taste and when cooked through, turn off the heat and add a little cream cheese.  Leave to stand for a moment.

Another option is to make a filling just with the mixture of lupine flour, nutritional yeast, a little sea salt and cream cheese.

Heat a griddle pan over medium heat and meanwhile, assemble the Portobello buttons with the legume pesto filling, sprinkle with a little parmesan cheese or nutritional yeast, cook for 10-12 minutes.

To make sure the cheese is extra golden and bubbly, place the pan under a hot grill for the last two minutes of cooking.

In the next presentation I will introduce you to medicinal mushrooms and explain why they are known by names such as nutraceuticals and adaptogens.

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