Okay, even if “finish your mushrooms if you want dessert” is not part of the same shared national consciousness as “eat your spinach” or “finish your peas,” it’s time for the lowly mushroom to come out of the shadows and be counted – not as the next best vegetable since Popeye lifted a can, but as a proud fungi, standing on it’s own stem and tipping it’s cap to the world in thanks for some long-overdue praise.
That’s right, although mushrooms are often classified as vegetables for the purpose of deciding where to put them on a My Plate illustration, they are not actually plants but part of the kingdom of fungi. Mushrooms do share some characteristics with plants and even with animals. They are low in calories, have virtually no fat and no cholesterol and are very low in sodium. And yet, three ounces of raw mushrooms, or about one cup, can provide one to two grams of protein. Mushrooms also contribute “bulk” to our diet because they contain an indigestible carbohydrate called chitin that is also found in shrimp and crab shells but not in plants.
Health Benefits of Mushrooms
• Mushrooms provide the B vitamins riboflavin and niacin and are a good source of selenium and potassium. Surprisingly, mushrooms provide a small amount of vitamin D and increase their vitamin D content when exposed to light in the same way our skin makes vitamin D from sunlight.
• Mushrooms also can provide us with unique immune system support and regulation of unwanted inflammation.
• Additionally, mushrooms may offer some protection against cardiovascular disease. Extracts from crimini, oyster, shiikate, maitake, and white button mushrooms have been found to reduce the binding of certain immune cells onto the lining of the aorta, lowering the risk of damage to the aorta of blood flow problems.
• For women at risk of hormone-dependent breast cancer, crimini mushrooms may be an important diet addition. These mushrooms have recently been shown to be a significant source of conjugated linolenic acid (CLA) – a unique type of fatty acid that can bind to aromatase enzymes and lessen the production of estrogen. Since some breast cancer tumors are dependent upon estrogen for their growth, blocking the aromatase enzyme, may lower the risk of this type of breast cancer.
Emerging evidence from exciting new studies suggests that mushrooms may also help to:
* Boost energy, eliminate fatigue, and balance the effects of stress
* Promote healthy skin and hair
* Cleanse the liver and flush out toxins
* Improve brain cell function and promote memory and concentration
Protect the nutritional value of your mushrooms with proper storage. You can make a difference in the health benefits you get from mushrooms by being extra careful with the temperature at which you store them. A recent study looked at color and texture changes in mushrooms over a 6-8 day period, including color changes that were associated with the mushrooms’ phytonutrient content. As temperatures moved closer to room temperature, discoloration and hardening became more problematic. To prevent discoloration and hardening, researchers determined it was best to keep temperatures at 38°F/3°C, the perfect setting for the home refrigerator. Careful refrigeration of mushrooms at 38°F/3°C as soon as you arrive from the grocery store can help keep your mushrooms fresh, flavorful, and packed with nutrition.
Common Cultivated Mushroom Varieties
Button Mushrooms The button mushroom (or champignon mushroom) is the world’s most readily available and frequently eaten mushroom. It has a strong and individual flavor, keeps well in the refrigerator, combines with almost everything and is available all year long, even in the worst weather.
Whole unopened buttons taste best. Once the partial veil protecting the gills has broken and the cap expands, the flesh becomes softer, cooks darker, and has a stronger taste. These more mature mushrooms do not keep as well as buttons.
Shiitake Mushrooms Shiitake mushrooms are also known as Black Forest mushrooms or Golden Oak mushrooms. They are mostly cultivated in Japan, China, and South Korea, but are also available from Australia and North America. When fresh, the mushrooms color ranges from light golden brown to dark brown. They have a wide cap with a firm fleshy texture, but the stems are very tough so they should be chopped finely for sautéing or saved for making stock.
Oyster Mushrooms The oyster mushroom, also known as Pleurotte, gets its name from the way it looks and not its flavor. Oyster mushrooms are light tan or cream colored with a large, fan-like cap and a short stem. These tender mushrooms have a delicate flavor, so they are best prepared simply so the flavor isn’t overpowered.
Enoki Mushrooms These mushrooms are also known as Enokitake or Enokidake. They have a tiny white cap on a long slender stem. They grow in bunches from a single base, so you select clusters rather than single mushrooms. Trim off the base and give the Enoki a quick rinse to prepare them. Enoki have a crisp texture and a fruity, sweet flavor and are very good raw in a salad. If you are using them in a cooked dish, add them last to keep the texture and flavor.
Cremini Mushrooms Cremini mushrooms are fun and tasty. They are a slightly more mature variation of the common button mushroom. Use them wherever you would use button mushrooms but expect a deeper, richer flavor.
Portobello Mushrooms The most mature version of the Cremini mushroom these Portobello mushrooms can grow up to 6-inches wide, are great for grilling or stuffing, and can be used as a substitute for meat in some recipes.
Play it Safe Exotic mushrooms add a distinct flavor to your cooking, but unless you are a mushroom expert, known as a mycophagist, you are safer getting your mushrooms from the store. Some poisonous mushrooms look just like some types of edible mushrooms.
Try this Holly Clegg trim&TERRIFIC recipe that includes Portobello mushrooms.
Sirloin Strips with Marsala Sauce
This combination of sirloin, portabellas and Marsala turns simple ingredients into an extraordinary meal. Serve with rice or pasta to take advantage of the wonderful sauce. Makes 2 servings
1/2-3/4 pound sirloin steak, trimmed and cut into 3/4 inch strips
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 cup sliced baby portabella mushrooms
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup beef broth
2 tablespoons Marsala wine or cooking wine
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
Chopped green onions, garnish
1. In large nonstick skillet coated with nonstick cooking spray, brown steak over medium heat, stirring about 5-7 minutes. Remove from pan, set aside. 2. In same skillet, add olive oil and cook onion, mushrooms and garlic until tender, 5-7 minutes. Sprinkle with flour, stirring 30 seconds. 3. Gradually add broth, stirring constantly. Bring to boil, cooking several minutes until thickened. Add Marsala and thyme. Season to taste. 4. Return to boil and add steak to pan, continue cooking until done. Garnish with chopped green onions.
Nutritional information per serving: Calories 259; Calories from fat 32%; Fat 9g; Saturated Fat 2g; Cholesterol 42mg; Sodium 247mg; Carbohydrate 14g; Dietary Fiber 1g; Sugars 3g; Protein 26g.
Dietary Exchanges: 1/2 starch, 1 vegetable, 3 lean meat.