Top 5 Ways to Use Mushrooms
Mushrooms are filled with umami flavor, nutrition, and health benefits—learn how to use them in the kitchen with these top five tips.
Nothing compares to the earthy fragrance and savory taste of mushrooms, freshly sautéed in a bit of olive oil and garlic. A rich source of umami (that savory sensation), mushrooms can add flavor to any dish, and the darker a mushroom is, the more umami it has, in general. Umami can increase satiety, balance saltiness, and lessen bitterness, making them a tasty and healthy addition to anything from pastas to salads. This savory flavor and “meaty” texture is even more important for completely plant-based diets. However, did you know that mushrooms are far more special than their delicious taste suggests? Neither plant nor animal, mushrooms reside in the kingdom of fungi, and are actually the complex fruiting body of the fungal organism.
Similar to how a tree produces seed-bearing fruit to continue the species, a fungal organism produces spore-spreading mushrooms that can seemingly pop up overnight. This phenomenon is actually the origin of several phrases in the English language, such as “mushrooming,” meaning to pop up quickly! Keep an eye out for mushrooms the next time it rains, and you’ll likely see tons of those little fungi. Or, if you’d like to grow your own edible mushrooms, there are plenty of ways to do so: purchase spores from a local gardener, or, if your green thumb isn’t very green, you can buy a pre-prepared kit online!
With thousands of mushroom species present in the world, most of these fungi remain mysterious, as only 10 percent of the species have been identified. Most of the discovered species are considered macrofungi—ones we can see—and many of the unidentified species are microfungi, including molds and mildews. In fact, the one of the largest living organisms is a fungal colony in Oregon, weighing the same as 20 blue whales and covering nearly 4 square miles in area!
Read more about the different varieties of mushrooms available here.
Naturally low in calories and fat, mushrooms only contain 18 to 28 calories per three-ounce serving, depending on the variety. Even more importantly, mushrooms are a great source of beta-glucans, proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, trace elements and naturally-occurring plant compounds like sterols, phenols, and terpenoids. They also are an excellent source of buzz-worthy vitamin D (if exposed to light), which keeps us happy during these dreary, sunless winter days!
Check out this mushroom-rich recipe for Sonoma Kale Salad with Red Grapes and Mushroom-Red Wine Vinaigrette, and watch the video for making this recipe here.
Researchers point out that mushrooms have a number of bacteria, yeasts and molds that may hold health-promoting promise. The study of mushrooms’ health benefits has focused primarily on their anti-cancer activity, antioxidant action and immune-enhancing benefits. A few studies have looked into other potential benefits, including weight management and satiety, and reduction in levels of blood lipids and glucose. Mushroom beta-glucans may be the secret ingredient, as they appear to have immune-stimulating and cholesterol-lowering effects, as well as anti-cancer activity, according to a November, 2009 study in Nutrition Reviews.
Interested in cooking with mushrooms? The amazing thing about these fungi is that they’re extremely versatile. Button ball mushrooms, the most popular variety in the United States, can be cooked or eaten raw. I love to slice them and dip them into hummus alongside red and orange bell peppers! However, figuring out how to cook them can be tricky. Make sure to rinse them off before use, but if they’re too damp before cooking, the trapped water may cause them to steam rather than crisp up. To avoid this, cut them after rinsing, and pat them dry before adding them to the pan. You can also marinate mushrooms for a deeper, more intense flavor that will add complexity to your dish. However, while most mushrooms can be cooked in a number of ways, there are a few varieties that require more preparation! Head down to the bottom of his blog post for a deeper look at some of the best ways to enjoy everything from Shiitake to Enoki.
Top 5 Ways to Use Mushrooms
1. Start out the Day with Mushrooms. Replace your plain, ordinary breakfast with a delicious and savory mushroom meal. Sauté them in a tofu scramble, slice them into your breakfast sandwich, or stir them into your savory oats.
2. Wrap up Mushrooms. Slice them into your next lunch wrap, along with a creamy hummus, spicy greens, and protein-rich beans, of taco.
3. Stir Them into Pasta Dishes. Add complex flavor, taste, and nutrients to your pasta, from lasagnas to simple stir-fries.
4. Toss Shrooms into Salads and Bowls. Toss up your greens and grain bowls with a powerful punch of savory mushrooms. Enjoy them sliced raw or sautéed with olive oil and garlic.
Learn more about mushrooms here.
Find out how to use more plant foods with these handy guides:
Photos by Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN