Shiitake mushrooms are commonly associated with Asian cooking, primarily because they are native to Asia. However, in recent years, they have become popular in many other countries. In the United States, for example, they have become so popular that many local farmers are now growing the mushrooms and selling them at $16 a pound.
As a USA Today article explains, the Department of Agriculture, recognising that there was huge market potential in shiitake mushrooms, gave a grant to the University of Vermont Extension’s Center for Sustainable Agriculture and Cornell University Cooperative Extension. As a result, 20 farms in Vermont and New York were chosen as research sites. The farms in question are now selling to local restaurants and cooperatives after workshops in shiitake mushroom growing. The initial injection of capital is relatively low because all that is needed is logs, mushroom spawn and hard work.
There are a number of reasons why shiitake mushrooms are currently in such high demand:
USA Today describes the taste of fresh shiitake mushrooms as “both light and meaty, with a rich nutty flavor featuring a hint of garlic,” yet depending on the type of logs they are grown on and how they are cooked, they can have a range of different flavours. In the past, dried shiitake mushrooms, which can be imported very cheaply from Asia, have been more commonly available and are certainly full of flavour. However, as the market in the U.S. has shown, the fresh version is increasingly in demand.
People don’t generally think of mushrooms as being nutritious, but in the case of shiitake mushrooms, they certainly are. They contain high amounts of Vitamins B2, B3, B5 and B6, as well as Vitamin D. They also contain minerals in the form of selenium, manganese, copper, zinc, potassium and phosphorus as well as a variety of phytonutrients, dietary fibre and protein. They are very low in calories.
Probably because shiitake mushrooms are so full of nutrients, they are believed to have a number of health benefits. According to WH Foods, numerous studies have shown that shiitake mushrooms “help prevent excessive immune system activity.” However, they can also stimulate the immune system when necessary. They are also believed to help reduce the amount of cholesterol in the body and, because of the antioxidants that they contain, they help prevent damage to the lining of blood vessels. Finally, there is ongoing research that suggests shiitake mushrooms have anti-cancer properties.
Although shiitake mushrooms are primarily grown in the United States to be eaten fresh, they do have an excellent shelf life. According to mushroompeople.com, if they are refrigerated and stored in paper bags or cartons, they can be kept for about a month. They can also be dehydrated if they cannot be eaten within a month. The flavour of dehydrated shiitake mushrooms is more intense than the fresh, which some people find preferable; however, eight pounds of fresh mushrooms which are dehydrated and then rehydrated only make about four pounds.
Whether you are thinking of growing shiitake mushrooms, or just want to eat them, there is no doubt that they have a number of benefits. Perhaps that is why the average person in the United States eats 4 pounds of them per year.