Ingredient Insights: Shiitake, Chaga, Reishi, Oyster Mushrooms


There are so many ways to start off this week’s Ingredient Insights about mushrooms.

I could tell you a fun fact about them, like the fact that more than 4,600 years ago, ancient Egyptians referred to mushrooms as a symbol of immortality using hieroglyphics (mushrooms were food exclusively for royalty, so no one else were able to touch them).

Or I could just start singing… “shrooms, shrooms, LSD, mescaline, a lotta weed!” (“Drug Parade” by Flatbush Zombies) – not quite the shrooms we’re going to talk about today but it’s always accepted.

Kick off your shoes, get comfy, and let’s get started!


Shiitake Mushroom:

I remember when I was younger, strolling through a grocery market with my grandma, coming across Shiitake mushrooms, thinking “Shit-take mushrooms??? Gross.” Mind you, I was not the most innocent kid. Now, I praise Shiitakes; they’re probably my favorite mushroom to cook with and enjoy eating, to be honest.

In Japanese, “shii” is the type of tree these mushrooms grow on, and “take” simply means mushroom (so when you’re saying “Shiitake mushroom,” you’re really saying “Shii mushroom mushroom”). It’s tan/dark brown in color and it carries a smokey flavor, although, the flavor intensifies when you either dry the shiitakes or buy dried ones and soak it in water prior to using. Shiitakes have been quite a treat to the Japanese ever since the start of The Ming Dynasty back in the 1300’s, when they began to study the medicinal properties behind this mushroom. Japanese elders came to consider the Shiitake the “elixir of life.”

Not only is the shiitake mushroom a plentiful source of vitamin D, B6, protein, carbohydrates, and essential amino acids (wow, what a mouth full), but it also helps reduce inflammation, reduce blood pressure, and reduce weight gain!

A unique feature of the Shiitake mushroom is that it contains lentinan, which is a natural compound that fights cancer, leukemia, and help reduce the growth of HIV’s. Another unique feature is it’s copper content. Shiitakes contain 65% of your daily value of copper, which is one of the few metallic elements essential to our health. Our bodies cannot synthesize copper, therefore, we have to supply ourselves with it. If we don’t have enough copper in our bodies, it could result in the development of coronary heart disease.

Shiitakes are the second most cultivated edible mushroom in the world, with China having about 80% of the world’s production. So it shouldn’t at all be hard to find Shiitakes in grocery stores – I’d recommend buying ORGANIC to avoid pesticides and fungicides (ironic, huh?).

Fun fact: Shiitake mushrooms and human skin are similar in the way it produces vitamin D aka by being exposed to the sunlight. If you take a freshly cut Shiitake mushroom and put it gills-up to the sun for eight hours, it’ll help increase its vitamin D content by up to 4,600 times!

Build your immune system, build your consciousness, and build your appetite because it’s time to heal your body with some delicious Shiitake mushrooms!


Chaga Mushroom:

Let’s play a game…

  1. Chaga mushrooms grow on the outside of 40+ year old _________ trees in very cold climates.
  2. “Chaga” comes from the __________ word for “mushroom.” They’ve also called Chaga “Black Gold.”
  3. Sometimes, Chaga is mushroom is called “tree ______” because its presence slowly kills its tree host.
  4. Chaga was used as a ___________ substitute during World Wars I and II.
  5. Benefits of Chaga mushroom include boosting the immune system, reduce inflammation, lower blood pressure, and improve physical _____________.
  6. Chaga has the highest ORAC (which is the measure of ____________ potency) score of any superfood.
  7. Chaga has been a traditional medicine in Northern Europe and Russia for hundreds of years to help treat heart disease, diabetes, and prevent the growth of cancer in the __________.
  8. To use Chaga mushroom, you must introduce it to either __________ or alcohol in order to break down its tough cellular walls and allow its benefits to be useful for humans.

 

Answers (no cheating!):

  1. Birch
  2. Russian
  3. cancer
  4. coffee
  5. endurance
  6. antioxidant
  7. liver
  8. hot water

It’s okay if you didn’t guess any of them correctly – I didn’t expect you to. I hope you at least had some fun with it though!

Now your homework is to look up what a Chaga mushroom looks like. Be ready for a surprise!


Reishi Mushroom:

Reishi aka King of Mushrooms aka Ling Zhi aka weird devil looking fungus…. okay, no one really calls it that last one BUT it is a weird looking fungus. They’re like big, white and red/orange, shell-looking, stiff creatures! And they don’t even have gills – they have pores!

This mushroom has been used in Asian societies for thousands of years, making it one of the oldest symbols of well-being and longevity. For history’s sake, Reishi used to only be consumed by royalty, and traditional Chinese medicine was made up of fully grown Reishi – dried, sliced, boiled, and steeped to make a healing tea or soup. These days, manufacturers of Reishi products use a process where they just boil the Reishi multiple times at a high pressure, which allows the active ingredients to be taken and formed into a tincture.

There have been dozens of different studies all across Japan, China, the US, and the UK for the past several decades on Reishi and what they’ve proved to be true is that Reishi can protect against:

  • inflammation
  • fatigue
  • frequent infections
  • liver disease
  • asthma
  • digestive problems
  • leaky gut
  • tumor growth
  • cancer
  • autoimmune disorders
  • diabetes
  • viruses
  • heart disease
  • high blood pressure
  • hypertension
  • high cholesterol
  • anxiety
  • depression

There you have it, the king of mushrooms! All thanks to the various active ingredients that work together within this shroom! Maybe consider Reishi mushrooms next time you’re looking for a more natural way to heal your body, as compared to medications. Best thing is that Reishi is non-toxic and barely has any side effects!


Oyster Mushroom:

I’ve got a question for you: does eating Oyster mushrooms classify as cheating if you’re vegan? Strange question, I know. I’m only asking you this because Oyster mushrooms are carnivorous – they release a chemical and a sweet anise scent to lure in microscopic nematodes (small roundworms), then the mycelia paralyzes, kills, and digests the creatures to gain nitrogen.

The Oyster mushroom has only been cultivated in Germany for less than 100 years; the cultivation originally started during World War I, when food was scarce. Now you’re able to find it growing wild all around North America, Europe, and Asia. It’s a common and versatile mushroom with a chewy, meaty texture and full of umami flavors, which is why you’d usually find it in Asian cuisines or as a meat substitute for vegan and vegetarian dishes.

Not only is the Oyster mushroom a blessing to eat, but it’s also great for your body’s health – it’s a win-win here! Oyster mushrooms help lower cholesterol, reduce inflammation, help stop cancer growth, give your brain a boost, and it’s loadeddddd with antioxidants. There’s really no reason for you not to cook up some Oyster mushrooms – unless you don’t like mushrooms or you’re allergic. Other than those, you have no excuse. Fire up that stove!


“shrooms, shrooms, LSD, mescaline, a lotta weed!”

I had to. It’s a banger.
See ya back here next week!
And be safe this 4th of July, please.

– Kimberly

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