Shiitake Mushroom
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Shiitake Mushroom (Lentinus edodes), also known as Shitake Mushroom, Black Oak Mushroom, Black Forest Mushroom, Golden Oak Mushroom, Oakwood Mushroom, and Japanese Mushroom, is the second most consumed mushroom in the world!

Shitake Mushrooms are native to Japan, Korea and China and naturally grow in forests on fallen oak logs. It is probably not surprising then, that the name “Shiitake” comes from two Japanese words, “Shii” (oak) and “Take” (Mushroom). In China, Shiitake Mushrooms are called “Hsaing Ku” which is Chinese for “Fragrant Mushroom.”

Shiitake Mushrooms are large and brown mushrooms with a very fleshy, broad, flat cap that is 1-2 inces in diameter and curls inwards. Shiitake Mushrooms vary from golden brownish to very dark brown, because they get browner as they age. The cap looks something like an umbrella and the underside and stem, are ivory or white in color.

Shiitake Mushrooms have been used in Chinese Herbal Medicine since prehistoric times. During the Ming Dynasty (AD 1368–1644), physician Wu Juei wrote that the mushroom could be used as a food and as a medicinal mushroom: taken as a remedy for upper respiratory diseases, poor blood circulation, liver trouble, exhaustion and weakness, and to boost qi or life energy, and it was also believed to prevent premature aging. The mushrooms have been widely consumed as a food for thousands of years in the East and more recently in the West. Today, shiitake mushrooms are very popular in the United States as well for their flavor as well as their medical properties. Research into the anticancer properties of shiitake mushrooms has been going on since at least the 1960s.

Though Smart Kitchen does not advise it, Shiitake Mushrooms are widely foraged in Asia, even by novice mushroom hunters who take a risk. Unless you're an expert, or foraging with an expert, we suggest against guide book foraging.

Season

Shiitake Mushrooms are now cultivated and thus grown commercially all year. Because they are harvested daily, grocery shoppers don’t have to worry about any “seasonality.”

If you had to search for a season for wild Shiitake Mushrooms, it would be spring and fall. 

Availability

With Shiitake Mushrooms grown in natural and controlled environments throughout the world today, fresh Shiitake Mushrooms can generally be found in American grocery stores year around. The fresh or dried whole mushroom is widely available, while extracts of Shiitake Mushroom are sold in sprays and capsules in health food stores.

Cultivation

Shiitake Mushrooms are a fungus and not technically plants. As a distinct organism, with unique characteristics, they require different growing conditions than a run-of-the-mill garden Vegetable we are used to growing. First of all, Shiitake Mushrooms don’t create their own food from soil and sunlight through photosynthesis like plants. Instead they feed off of decaying matter which makes them “heterotrophs.”

Though we desire the mushroom caps and stems, the bulk of the Lentinus edodes mushroom fungus organism, the mycelium, tends to grow out of sight. It is there, in its vegetative state, even when we don’t see any Mushrooms sprouting from a log. Environmental cues, such as cold or precipitation, trigger the Mushroom to go into a reproductive state and send up mushrooms (also called fruiting bodies) to spread spores. This is why we see so many mushrooms sprout up after a rain.

The fleshy fruit of the fungus is the mushroom that we enjoy. Its purpose is to act as a spore producer to send out reproductive spores into the environment. Because of their reproductive role, Scientists call the sprouting, spore-firing, mushroom a “Sporophore,” which translates from the Greek as a “Spore Producer.”

With the scientific terms it may be a bit confusing. Put more simply, the edible Shiitake Mushrooms that we fancy, are analogous to the apples of an apple tree. They are the fruit of the larger fungus. Instead of seeds, mushrooms have spores.

Shiitake Mushrooms are relatively easy to grow because they are primary decomposers of wood, meaning, essentially, they eat decaying wood, typically hardwoods. They don’t need composting like button mushrooms and do best growing outdoors on wood. Shiitake Mushrooms, depending on the variety, can take anywhere from 45 days to 100 days to spawn.

Mushrooms tend to prefer moist environments (95-100% humidity) and can grow quickly, especially after heavy rains. Shiitake Mushrooms come from three primary outdoor logs, indoor trays of sawdust blocks, and wild harvesting/foraging. 

Larger commercial Mushroom farmers use indoor trays filled with oak sawdust stacked like bunk beds in mushroom sheds. Insects, Bacteria and other fungi can constitute a parasitic risk to growing Mushrooms so cultivators control their growing environment to eliminate such risks. Cultivated Mushrooms are raised in a fairly sterile environment. You will probably want to protect your Shiitake Mushrooms if you choose to grow your own.

Though we discourage it, Shiitake Mushrooms may be foraged, typically in Asia. There are plenty of guides to help people determine which wild fungi are edible Shiitake Mushrooms. If you decide to take this dangerous route, make sure to have an experienced person guide you. Double-check what you’ve picked before eating it.  For us, good grocery stores with interesting, revolving selections are the perfect foraging grounds, without the good walk or any of the risks.

Many vendors sell Shiitake Mushroom Growing Kits for home users aiming to experiment. Cornell University’s Shiitake Growing Post is very good. There is also a good book by Paul Stamet called “The Mushroom Cultivator: A Practical Guide to Growing Mushrooms at Home.” If you want to grow Mushrooms in a larger way, Paul Stamet’s other major work: “Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms“ is very helpful. These last three links go offsite to Amazon.

Production

Since as early as A.D. 1100, Shiitake Mushrooms have been cultivated on notched logs stacked in evergreen forests in China. It is believed that the Chinese growers were the first to produce Shiitake Mushrooms and that they introduced Shiitake cultivation techniques to Japanese farmers. They must not have shared the mushroom’s name though, because the name “Shiitake” is Japanese.

The original method of production was to inoculate natural oak logs and let the Shiitake Mushroom mycelium (the stringy main body of the Mushroom) colonize the wood. The threads of the mycelia would digest the wood and convert it into fungal tissue. Once the wood had been broken down enough, the Shiitake would begin reproduction by sprouting mushrooms, which were harvested by the early cultivators in the spring and fall. The useful life of a Shiitake Mycelium was 5 to 6 years. In the wild, these Shiitake Mushrooms would drop spores which would be carried to new logs by the wind to continue the cycle.

Today, Shiitakes, at 25% of the market, are the second most popular Mushrooms in the world. In Asia, Shiitake Mushrooms are the top mushroom grown. China grew about 89% of the globe’s Shiitakes. Japan only grew about 7%, but that was enough to make Shiitake Mushrooms Japan’s leading agricultural export.

It was only in 1972, that the U.S. Department of Agriculture lifted a ban on importing live shiitake cultures, allowing the U.S. Shiitake Mushroom to take off. Between 1986 and 2000, total U.S. production of shiitake increased from less than 1 million to 8.6 million pounds, while the price dropped from $5.42 to $3.29 per pound. According to the latest figures, U.S. Shitake growers produced around 7 to 8 million pounds of Shiitake Mushrooms or about 0.3% of the global output.

Like the bulk of specialty mushrooms that are primary decomposers, most Shiitake Mushrooms are grown commercially on sterilized compressed sawdust blocks packed in poly bags. The sawdust is made from a combination of oak sawdust, bran, millet and other additives. A sterile environment is desirable to avoid contaminating the growth medium with competitive fungi and pesky pathogens.

Once prepared, the blocks are inoculated with Shiitake spawn and placed in humid, environmentally controlled rooms in mushroom houses. After about 45 to 100 days of growth (various Shiitake Strains need different lengths of time) the mycelium has done its work. The plastic bag is then removed and the blocks are placed in a fruiting room (about 63°F with 75-90% relative humidity) to encourage the Shiitake to sprout Mushrooms. The Shiitakes emerge from the synthetic logs remarkably clean and are picked by hand. Harvesters grab a handful, pull and twist gently to release the Mushroom. They trim the stumps with a knife and grade them according to size and quality. A good harvester can pick up to 100 pounds (45 kg) an hour. After harvest, the block can be stimulated to fruit again by soaking the block in water.

The synthetic logs produce Shiitake Mushrooms in about seven weeks. Most of the larger producers have made the investment in equipment and personnel to make their own sawdust blocks internally. The initial investment in sawdust block production, mushroom houses, etc. is offset by production efficiency and yield and volume.

The modern Shiitake growing cycle (from spawn to final harvesting) takes about two to four months, at worst 5 years and 8 months better than the ancients’ method. This doesn’t mean that some producers are not still growing Shiitakes outdoors using natural, hardwood logs. They are. Pre-drilled holes in forty inch long, four to six inch wide hard wood logs are inoculated with Shiitake Spawn, which are then sealed in by dripping wax over each hole.

The traditional method of Shiitake Mushroom production is actually promoted as a good way to use low quality hardwoods such as Post Oak or White Oak.  If you are interested in cultivating some Shiitakes, you can buy your own, pre-inoculated Shiitake Mushroom Log over the internet.

If you want to learn even more about Shiitake Mushroom production in the US; The American Society for Horticultural Science’s Article on Shiitake Production is very good.

Varieties

Historically, the Japanese have had three grades of Shiitake Mushrooms: Donko, Koko and Koshin. According to modern mycologists, these grades are actually descriptors for certain characteristics of different Shiitake strains which go by names like Snow Cap Shiitake, Native Harvest Shiitake or by numbers and letters like WW70, M 3790, M 3782, etc. Describing the traits of the grades is probably the most helpful way to understand Shiitake Varieties for the home user.

  • Donko Shiitake Mushrooms are the premium grade with thick, firm, closed mushroom caps that tend to curl under themselves. They are the most expensive but are meaty and can retain their flavor in any dish.
  • Koshin Shiitake Mushrooms have thin, flat, soft, open caps that flare a little. Koshin are typically the spring variety and are faster growing as well as less expensive.
  • Koko Shiitake Mushrooms are in the middle.
Purchasing

Shiitake Mushrooms can be found in many local grocery stores in various forms including: Fresh Mushrooms (whole & prepped), Dried Mushrooms and Canned Mushrooms and Frozen Mushrooms. In general Fresh mushrooms have better texture and dried mushrooms have better, more concentrated flavor.

Fresh Shiitake Mushrooms

Select fresh, young Shiitake Mushrooms in prime condition, with whole, closed, clean, thick, tan to brown caps and no signs of bruising or sliminess. The browner the Shiitake Mushroom the older the fungi typically is. Look under the Mushroom Cap for the “ring,” the soft covering that joins the edge of the cap to the stem. It should be intact and covering the Gills so that the gills are hidden and cannot be seen. If you can see the gills, the Shiitake Mushroom is past its prime.

Because they are very moist (about 90% water), the Shiitake Mushrooms should appear and feel “springy,” that is firm and dry, without actually being dry or shriveled.

Aroma can also help you make better Shiitake Mushroom purchasing decisions. Good, fresh Mushrooms will smell earthy. Shiitake have a mild fragrance as compared to some other mushrooms, but the stronger the earthiness, the more flavor the Mushroom contains. Sour or fishy smelling Mushrooms should be avoided. Mold growth and sliminess are other definite signs that the Mushrooms are bad.

We tend to avoid buying pre-sliced, fresh Mushrooms because it is harder to tell how many mushroom caps you are getting. This can be a problem if a particular recipes calls for mushrooms by the count (the certain number of whole mushrooms) not by volume or weight. Also cutting into the product in a factory someplace starts the clock running on moisture loss. We can’t know how long the Shiitake Mushrooms have been in transit.

By the way, the Japanese have three grades of Shiitake Mushrooms: Donko, Koko and Koshin. Donko Shiitake Mushrooms are the premium grade with thick, firm, closed mushroom caps. Donko Shiitake Mushrooms generally have the most “meaty” flavor and can stand up with almost any paired ingredient. If you see thick, dome-capped Shiitakes where the edges of the cap are almost curling under, those are likely Donko Shiitake Mushrooms.

Koshin Shiitake Mushrooms have thin, flat, softer, open caps. Koshin are typically the spring variety and are faster growing as well as less expensive. Koko Shiitake Mushrooms are in the middle.

We don’t very often see Shiitake Mushroom sold with any “grading” terminology in the United States. In domestic terms, the Japanese grades are more akin to “traits,” which is why we see both thick capped and thin capped Shiitake Mushrooms in our produce bins in local stores. Shop for the traits, as described above, that you prefer, at a price you like and you should be getting the proper grade of Shiitake Mushrooms for your needs.

You can also defy the seasons and order your own Shiitake Mushroom Growing Kits, online.

Dried Shiitake Mushrooms

For years, the odds were that you would only find Shiitake Mushrooms in the United States in their dried form. Today, the two forms can co-exist at retail where Dried Shiitake Mushrooms are normally the most economical option.


When purchasing Dried Shiitake Mushrooms, look for a well-sealed package without any visible moisture, or mold, inside.  Shop carefully when purchasing Dried Shiitake Mushrooms because there are many grades of Shiitakes.

In the United States, Shiitake Mushrooms are also sold as extracts and dietary supplements.

Storage

Within the perishable world of mushrooms, Shitake Mushrooms are among the more hardy specimens. They don’t bruise easily and have a decent shelf life even when fresh. Even so, excessive moisture degrades fresh Shitake Mushrooms and can make them soggy. Proper storage and handling will help you make the most of your Shiitakes.

When brought home from the store they should be stored in their original cardboard container on a shelf in the refrigerator. If you want to remove the plastic wrap, if any, and cover the Shiitake Mushrooms with a dry paper towel that is fine. Placing them under wax paper, in a paper bag or in a Vegetable Bag is good as well. All of these choices allow air to circulate.

We don’t recommend using the higher humidity crisper drawer for moisture-sensitive Mushrooms. Stored as described above, Fresh Shiitake Mushrooms should last about 1-2 weeks in the refrigerator. Stored at room temperature they will only last a day or so. Because of their moisture content, we don’t suggest freezing fresh Shiitake Mushrooms at home.

If you found a great deal and want to store an abundance of fresh Shiitake Mushrooms, you can Slice them and dry them at home in a Dehydrator. Dried Mushrooms should be stored in an airtight container in a cool dark place such as a cabinet or pantry. Stored this way they can last up to a year, maybe two. They can last even longer if they are dehydrated and then frozen. Another option would be to cook them first and then freeze them. Don’t forget that Dried Mushrooms will need to be rehydrated, before use.

Culinary Uses

Shiitake Mushrooms are sturdy and completely edible* (both Cap & Stalk). Though they are porous, and can pick up surrounding tastes, they can do so without losing their own flavor when cooked, even when paired with stronger flavors such as Beef, Pork or soy sauce.

Shiitakes, have a slight earthy fragrance and a mild, meaty flavor. Their texture is spongy/chewy when cooked. They are often associated with Asian Cuisine, but have become more widely adopted as their availability and price has improved in the last few decades. Eating raw Shiitake Mushrooms, in very limited quantities, won't kill the average person and is considered safe (but unpleasant). At Smart Kitchen, we thin raw Shiitakes can stand tenderizing and flavor enhancements.

On Smart Kitchen’s Home Plate Shiitake Mushrooms are Raw, Tender, Thin, Moist and Lean (T1, T3, M, L).

If you are going to be using the very moist (about 90%) Shiitake Mushrooms in a way where the excess moisture will be a challenge (crispy Pizza for example), consider Slicing them thin to help them crisp up, or even salting them to leech out some of the extra moisture. Smart Kitchen demonstrates the salting technique to remove bitterness in Eggplant in our Prepping Eggplant Exercise.

It is possible to find Fresh Shiitake Mushrooms at retail, they have a better texture, but dried Shiitake Mushrooms are usually easier to find and a better deal. Dried Shiitake Mushrooms are not ready to go. They have to be Rehydrated for use but they do have a better more concentrated flavor. The rehydrating water can be an extra bonus if it is used as a Simmering Liquid for Soups or Nimono (Japanese simmered dishes). 

In a long Simmer, Dried Shiitake Mushrooms can even be added to the Simmering Liquid early and Rehydrated and cooked at the same time as the dish bubbles away.

In the kitchens of America, Shiitake Mushrooms are most commonly found in Miso Soup, but you will find them in Quiches, Frittatas, Vol au Vents, Tartlets, CrepesDuxelle, Mushroom Essence, etc., but your imagination is really the only limiting factor.

Smart Kitchen’s Recipe section has a number of Mushroom recipes that work well with Shiitake Mushrooms such as: Roasted Shiitake, Portobello & Cremini Mushrooms, Crab Stuffed Cremini Mushrooms, The Hunger Games Mushroom Soup, Kosher Mushroom Lasagna, Mushroom Gravy, Mushroom Clam Bisque, and Kosher Warm Mushroom and Sweet Potato Salad.

Relevant Lessons

Portion Size

Allow 1-2 oz of Shiitake Mushroom per person.

Substitutes

Button Mushrooms, Cremini Mushrooms and Oyster Mushrooms are the most common substitutes for Shiitake Mushrooms.

Nutritional Value

Nutritional Value USDA
MUSHROOMS,SHIITAKE,RAW
Amount Per 100g
Calories 34
%Daily Value*
 
0%
Total Fat 0g
0%
Saturated Fat 0g
Polyunsaturated Fat 0g
Monounsaturated Fat 0g
0%
Cholesterol 0mg
0%
Sodium 9mg
6%
Potassium 304mg
2%
Total Carbohydrate 6g
8%
Dietary Fiber 2g
Sugars 2g
Protein 2g
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
Nutrition

We suggest that Mushrooms be cooked for two primary reasons. The first is that Mushrooms can contain small levels of toxins and carcinogens. Cooking heat breaks them down significantly. The second reason is that many of the beneficial nutrients in Mushrooms are locked away behind indigestible chitin in the Mushrooms tough cell walls. Cooking heat weakens the chitin and thus makes the Mushrooms more nutritious.

Shiitake mushrooms are rich in B Vitamins—they are an excellent source of Pantothenic Acid, a very good source of Vitamin B2, and a good source of Vitamin B6, Niacin, Choline, and Folate. Additionally, they hold concentrated minerals and are an excellent source of Selenium, Iron and Copper, a very good source of Zinc, a good source of Manganese and a variety of Phytonutrients.

Shiitake Mushrooms are also a good source of Dietary Fiber and Vitamin D (in the D2 form). In fact, Mushrooms are one of the few natural sources of Vitamin D, but the amount in each Mushroom depends on how much ultraviolet light they have been exposed to as they grow. Most Shiitake Mushrooms only have a small amount, but some Mushroom farmers boost the Vitamin D content by exposing their product to ultraviolet light. They are low fat, low sugar and gluten free.

Shiitake Mushrooms were among the first ingredients in Chinese Herbal Medicine in prehistoric times. During the Ming Dynasty (AD 1368–1644), according to physician Wu Juei, Shiitake Mushrooms could be used as a medicinal mushroom to remedy upper respiratory diseases, bad circulation, liver problems, fatigue and weakness. They also, in Dr. Wu Juei’s opinion, boosted “qi” or life energy and prevented premature aging.

Western scientific research has been focused on Shiitake Mushrooms since the 1960’s. One of the main areas of focus has been the anticancer properties of Shiitake Mushrooms. Some animal studies have shown a direct relationship between the consumption of fresh, properly cooked Mushrooms and a declining rate of breast and prostate cancer growth, as well as the suppression of a compound believed to play a role in cancer tumor development. Other animal studies have found cholesterol-lowering and virus-inhibiting effects in compounds in Shiitake Mushrooms. The studies of mushrooms in animal trials for inflammation have had clear and consistent anti-inflammatory results. However, clinical studies are needed to determine whether these properties can help people with cancer and other diseases.

Relying on Shiitake Mushrooms alone and avoiding or delaying conventional medical care for cancer may have serious health consequences. Use Shiitake Mushrooms as part of a balanced diet, and don’t overcook them (too much heat can damage their nutrients).

In the United States, Shiitake Mushrooms are sold fresh and dried but also as extracts and dietary supplements. These extracts are generally considered safe, though side effects can include bloating or diarrhea. Allergic reactions are also possible.

Gluten Free

Yes

Low Fat

Yes

Low Calorie

Yes