The Health Benefits of Mushrooms
Delicious and nutritious, fungi are where it’s at! Learn more, and get 16 mushroom-loving recipes.
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Mushrooms are having a health moment. In Japan, kinkatsu is the practice of incorporating foods created by microorganisms, especially mushrooms, into the diet for better health. Here in the U.S., mushrooms are riding the popularity of functional foods — ingredients with health benefits beyond their nutritional value, such as reducing inflammation or the risk of disease. And for those who focus on more traditional nutrition, a recent study showed that adding a serving of mushrooms a day can add a hearty dose of micronutrients, plus vitamin D, to our diets without any additional sodium, calories, or fat.
The best part of jumping on the mushroom health bandwagon? There are dozens of both cultivated and wild edible mushrooms to choose from. While the fungi selection in your local grocery store will undoubtedly be much smaller, there’s still an opportunity to select from favorites like meaty portobellos, flavor-enhancing maitake, and versatile shiitake mushrooms.
To learn more about these superfoods and their many health benefits, we turned to Wellness RD Amy Archer, a San Francisco Bay Area Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Certified LEAP Therapist, and Certified Health and Wellness Coach. We talked to her about the myriad of ways that wellness and eating mushrooms go hand-in-hand.
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Yummly: Are mushrooms healthy?
Archer: Mushrooms have many health benefits. They’re good for your gut health because they act as a prebiotic, which promote the growth of healthy gut bacteria. They are both low-calorie and low-fat, so they can help with weight management if, say, substituted for a food that’s higher in calories and/or fat. For instance, replacing a burger beef patty with a portobello mushroom. They are known for having a really great antioxidant profile, and are also high in fiber. One of the things that people don't realize about mushrooms is that they even contain a little bit of protein — more than your average vegetable (though technically they're fungi).
Yummly: Why are mushrooms so good for you?
Archer: Mushrooms contain more than a dozen vitamins and minerals, including the B vitamins niacin and riboflavin. They’re also a good source of vitamin D2 when exposed to UV light, which helps bodies absorb calcium and is good for bone strength. And many mushrooms, particularly wild varieties like porcini, contain glutathione, an antioxidant that helps eliminate fat-soluble toxins from your body.
Yummly: What are the health benefits of incorporating mushrooms into your diet?
Archer: What we eat is so important, because our gut affects every function in our body. Edible mushrooms are no exception. Along with their role as a prebiotic, many mushrooms are known for other healing properties such as balancing blood sugar — high levels of which can lead to heart disease. They've been used in medicine for thousands of years all over the world, especially in regions like Europe, Asia, and Mexico.
More and more mushrooms are making their way into U.S. functional medicine, a form of medicine that addresses the root causes of diseases. This is something that I always look at when I’m researching individual ingredients and ways of putting them together to create healthy and nutrient-rich meals.
Mushrooms themselves are just so versatile. You can use them to make mushroom soup, put them in your bone broth, or pair them with a protein such as chicken or beef and serve them on the side or on top with some healthy oils.
Yummly: What are some of the best mushrooms for wellness and health?
Archer: Most people tend toward the more common button mushrooms, which unfortunately don’t have the most nutrients in them. To really experience the health benefits of mushrooms, look for those that may seem a little more exotic, such as shiitake mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, and the large, shaggy-like lion’s mane mushrooms. These varieties of mushrooms have a lot more of the healing properties associated with fungi. I especially love shiitake mushrooms. They have a rich and meaty flavor profile and you can easily incorporate them into a lot of different recipes.
One thing to remember is that mushrooms are healthier cooked than uncooked. This is because mushrooms have a really tough cell wall that's not so digestible when they're raw, but a little light grilling or sauteing helps to break down that wall, increasing their antioxidant levels and releasing all of these wonderful nutrients.
Yummly: I’ve heard about adaptogens. What are those?
Archer: Adaptogens are herbs or mushrooms that are thought to regulate the body and reduce the effects of stress. Lion’s mane is one mushroom that’s believed to work as an adaptogen, and has also been used to manage proper immune function. However, I feel that more research is needed to know if mushrooms are truly effective as adaptogens.
Yummly: Anything else we should know about mushrooms?
Archer: Some people find mushrooms intimidating, just because they don't know what to do with them. Others just don’t like the taste, because mushrooms can have a strong flavor, depending on what types of mushrooms they get. The best thing to do is just to go to a farmer's market and try out different mushroom varieties, and see which ones appeal to you.
16 mushroom-loving recipes
From playing a supporting part to taking on the starring role in dishes, these recipes help fresh mushrooms and their many health benefits shine. If your local grocery store doesn’t carry what you’re after, online sites like Oregon Mushrooms and Marx Foods should do the trick!
Mushroom appetizer recipes and light meals
Whether you’re looking for an umami-packed snack or a mushroom-centric small plate, these next recipes are both flavorful and filled with nutritional benefits.
Stuffed mushrooms are a perennial favorite for get-togethers and picnics alike. This recipe gives them a Mediterranean twist, sauteeing oregano and parsley with shallots and garlic, and then mixing them together with breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese to create the filling. Drizzle the mushrooms with a bit of olive oil before baking. Smaller, whole mushrooms like baby bella (aka crimini) — brown, earthy mushrooms that have a more robust flavor than your typical white button mushrooms — work best.
These fun little parcels of bite-sized goodness contain finely chopped mushrooms cooked with white wine and sprinkled with Parmesan, wrapped up in flaky pastry. You can purchase the pre-made phyllo in the freezer section of your grocery store. Consider combining mushrooms like crimini, white button, and shiitake (their strong umami flavor makes them a favorite ingredient in many Asian dishes, like stir-fries) for more full-bodied bundles.
Spinach stars in this creamy dip, though mushrooms (any kind will do) are an important player along with artichokes, reduced-fat cream cheese, sour cream, and Greek yogurt. You can serve this delicious appetizer with crostini or tortilla chips, dish it out with veggies, or place it inside a bread bowl for the ultimate crowd-pleaser.
Both hearty and brimming with umami flavor, mushroom soup is particularly soothing on cool days. Paprika, a seasoning made from dried and ground red peppers, is a staple in many traditional Hungarian dishes, and provides a sweet, peppery flavor and distinct color to this rustic dish. Fresh wild mushrooms like nutty morels and chanterelles — trumpet-shaped fungi that are sweet and fruity — add an extra earthy touch.
Pan-browned savory fritters are a great way to utilize leftover cremini or white button mushrooms, and make a tasty appetizer or light meal with a side salad. Don’t forget a spoonful of sour cream on top.
Perfectly seared mushrooms stacked on top of creamy white bean spread — what could be better? Bursting with nutrition and low in calories, this dish is also easy to make and versatile for breakfast, lunch, snack, or even a light dinner. Get creative with your ‘shrooms: porcini mushrooms are known for their deep, nutty flavor and pungent aroma (if you can’t find them fresh in your grocery store, simply purchase them dried and rehydrate them in hot water), or try beech mushrooms for a lightly sweet taste and a bit of crunch. For the most nuanced umami flavor, maitake mushrooms are the way to go.
Mushroom side dishes
Mushrooms can go a long way toward wellness, even if they’re not center stage. Sauteed with other veggies, they make a nutritious — and delicious — side-dish.
These easy-to-prepare mushrooms are filled with bold, dynamic flavors. All it takes is a bit of balsamic vinegar, honey, and minced garlic, all whisked together and sauteed with whole or sliced mushrooms such as white button mushrooms or cremini mushrooms. While they go well with say, grilled chicken, you might also consider spooning the mushrooms into a grain bowl or green salad, or pouring them atop a thick, juicy steak.
Umami-packed maitakes and mild enoki mushrooms, which are often used in Japanese dishes like ramen miso soup, catapult this recipe from ordinary side-dish into something fantastic. The Japanese-style marinade calls for traditional ingredients such as mitsuba, aka Japanese parsley, and mint-like shiso leaves, though the recipe says basil and cilantro work just as well.
A mix of mushroom varieties, including oyster, portobello, and shiitake mushrooms, makes this pilaf especially savory. Brown rice adds an extra touch of dietary fiber as well as magnesium, which is good for heart health. Serve the pilaf with a fish like baked halibut, or grilled chicken for a meal that’s well-rounded and nutritious.
Not only is this side dish quick to cook, but it’s also loaded with amazing flavor — thanks, in part, to a little bacon fat as well as crispy cauliflower, substantial strips of bacon, and thick slices of cremini or shiitake mushrooms. For a more heart-healthy option, pan-fry the veggies in olive oil instead of the bacon fat.
Sauteed mushrooms and onions are a tasty addition to any meal, but go especially well atop a turkey burger or thick, juicy Swiss cheese hamburger. While the recipe calls for red wine, white wine or soup stock make easy substitutes. Try adding a little thyme or rosemary for a more complex flavor.
Mushroom main dishes
Incorporate them into stir-fries, mix them into frittatas and omelets, or cook them up with chicken. Whatever types of mushrooms you choose to work into your main dish, both your health and your taste buds will be thanking you.
With their mild taste and almost chicken-like texture when cooked, oyster mushrooms have long been a favorite ingredient in Japanese, Korean, and Chinese cooking. But breaded and fried, these meaty ‘shrooms also make an incredibly tasty taco filling. Serve them up in warm corn tortillas drizzled with a squeeze of chipotle and lime sauce mayo for a spicy, tangy kick.
This crustless quiche is simple to prepare ahead of time, and ideal for a weeknight meal or even a weekend brunch. You can use whatever vegetables you have in your fridge — just be sure and toss in some shiitake mushrooms (or any other variety of mushrooms) for that extra boost of protein, fiber, and vitamin D. Any leftovers keep well in the fridge for days.
Here’s a one-dish meal you can whip up in just over 30 minutes starting with store-bought ravioli (any kind of filling will do). The key is the savory mushroom sauce. Consider using a mix of fungi like white button mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms, and oyster mushrooms. Simply saute them together with spinach, garlic, and sun-dried tomatoes for a quick yet special meal.
Though it’s also ready in just over 30 minutes, this dish of crispy, pan-seared chicken breasts cooked alongside new potatoes and halved cremini or white button mushrooms feels pretty fancy. Fresh rosemary adds extra aroma and flavor.
Large, richly flavored, and meatier in texture than other mushrooms, portobellos can easily steal the spotlight of any meal. They also make a wonderful beef alternative. Try them baked and stuffed with a blend of veggies including kale, onions, zucchini, and farro, a nutty, nutritious form of wheat that’s a good source of fiber, protein, and B vitamins. An optional chimichurri sauce ties the dish together with a tangy, spicy punch.
Power up with plants
Are you looking to incorporate more plants into your diet? Learn more about how to make the most of them in your cooking and what they can do for your health in these next articles.