For thousands of years, the shiitake has been coveted as the premium edible mushroom in Asia, and now America is becoming uber-hip to this fungal bequest of the universe.
The Japanese word shiitake means “mushrooms from the shii tree.” Consciously or unconsciously, most everyone has eaten one when plowing through steaming white cartons of Asian carry-out. Don’t call them shiitake mushroom, however, as that would be redundant. To be accurate, simply refer to the ethereal specialty as shiitake.
Pronounced “shih-TAH-kee,” the distinctive woodsy flavor and firm, meaty texture are a mouth-watering addition to any recipe. The ancient Chinese have been using shiitakes as medicine for thousands of years and believe the shiitake dispelled hunger, treated colds and nourished the circulatory system. The Egyptians considered mushrooms the sons of gods sent to earth riding thunderbolts.
For hundreds of years, Germans have used this mushroom to rev up immune function, reduce inflammation, combat allergies and help balance sugar levels and support the Holy Temple’s detoxification mechanisms.
Fungi absorb their nutrients from their surrounding environment. Shiitake has no chlorophyll so they cannot make food from sunlight but must live by eating plants or animals. It is the shiitake’s medicinal possibilities that are receiving the worldwide spotlight. Over the last two decades, scientists have isolated substances from shiitake that may play a role in the cure and prevention of heart disease, cancer, viruses, bacteria and AIDS.
Shiitakes are brimming with potassium, manganese, iron, copper, niacin and vitamins C, B1, B2, D, A and E, plus they possess essential amino acids, just as meat does. Four average size shiitakes also contain around 10.3 g carbohydrates, 1.5 g fiber, 1.12 g protein, 40 calories and a whooping 17.8 mcg of cancer-preventing selenium.
Meaty shiitakes are outstanding food. As a family, discover the earthy, ambrosial flavor and healing mojo of the ancient shiitake.
Sautéed Shiitake Serves 4 as a side of wild mushrooms or 6-8 as a delicious topping over steamed vegetables, chicken or turkey.
Shiitakes are perfect for beans, grains and rice, stir-fries and pasta dishes, but they also make great sauces for fish and chicken. Pitch them into an omelet or the next batch of homemade soup. Wash them purposefully, remove the inedible stem, and then sliver them rather thinly with a sharp French knife. Cooking releases the distinct flavor, so lightly sauté these heavenly delicacies in olive or peanut oil.