In Japan, shiitake mushrooms are a staple both as a medicine and a food. In other countries in the Far East, such as China, shiitakes and other mushrooms have been consumed for thousands of years. Americans have gotten on board with utilizing shiitakes in meatless dishes. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why shiitakes are considered such an excellent meat substitute, and their health benefits.
1 – Texture
Shiitake mushrooms have a meaty texture. The mushroom caps can be marinated, broiled and eaten like a steak with sautéed onions on the side. Try a marinade with red wine, Worcestershire sauce, garlic and lemon juice for a meaty, satisfying meal. Shiitakes can be eaten on a bun in place of a ground beef patty, or chopped and formed into patties with cooked rice or other grains. They can be sliced and added to stir-fries.
Shiitakes can be purchased in dried or fresh forms, and the texture is different in each. Dried shiitakes, which must be soaked before using, do best in soups, stews, and baked dishes. The fresh ones do well in the uses described above.
2 – Protein and other nutrients
The high protein content of shiitakes makes them a good choice for a meat substitute. They contain B vitamins and minerals such as calcium.
3 – Flavor
Shiitakes have a “woodsy” flavor, but they soak up the flavors of sauces and seasonings easily. Dried shiitakes have a more intense flavor than fresh. Their flavor is comparable to meat, especially if meat seasonings or marinades are used to flavor them.
4 – Health benefits
Shiitakes are not just healthy because they provide a low-fat, low-cholesterol substitute for meat (although that is a healthful benefit). Shiitakes have medicinal qualities that are still being discovered. They appear to have anti-cancer properties, sometimes attributed to shiitakes’ content of polysaccharides. Polysaccharides are complex carbohydrates that enhance the immune system, and have been shown to have anti-tumor capabilities in animals.
Lentinan is another component of shiitakes that stimulates the immune system. Shiitakes have been shown to fight viruses and lower cholesterol. Those are a lot of health benefits not found in your average beef burger!
These are a lot of reasons to try a shiitake mushroom on your next burger bun or in place of beef. Your local health food store is a good source of dried shiitakes, and some health food stores carry them fresh. Many grocery stores now carry fresh shiitakes, too. While they are not cheap, when you compare them to the equivalent in organic beef and consider their benefits, they are priced appropriately.