All recipes are for 2 servings unless noted. Oil is canola oil and salt is kosher salt.


Shiitake mushroom

Lentinula edodes

The mushroom most commonly eaten in Japan, and perhaps in China and Korea as well. Shiitake is available both dried and fresh. Dried shiitake -- hoshishiitake -- is full of umami and makes an aromatic broth, while rehydrated hoshishiitake itself has an intense earthy aroma and flavor. Fresh shiitake is much gentler in terms of both flavor and aroma. Unlike common Western mushrooms such as button or crimini mushrooms, fresh shiitake is always cooked for consumption. It is very versatile and can be steamed, simmered, sautéed, deep-fried or grilled. The round, dark-brown umbrella by itself may not be very charming, but cuts are often made to make it look like a flower or star. In ceremonial dishes, six sides of the umbrella are cut off to create a turtle-shell form (the turtle symbolizes longevity). So shiitake appears on all sorts of occasions, from simple everyday meals to special ceremonies.

The name shiitake comes from where it grows naturally -- on dead shii [Castanopsis] trees. Host trees also include kunugi [Quercus acutissima], nara [Quercus serrata, Quercus crispula] and kuri chestnut. It is one of the easiest mushrooms to grow at home, and my parents used to have several host tree branches lined up in a shaded area in our yard when I was young.

Shiitake contains lenthinan (β-glucan), an anti-tumor agent that is said to revitalize lymph cells to control the occurrence and advancement of cancer as well as improve resistance to colds and other virus-related disorders. Eritadenine, another substance in shiitake, is known to lower blood pressure and cholesterol and prevent hypertension, hyperlipidaemia and obesity. Shiitake also contains erogosterol, a substance that changes into Vitamin D when exposed to ultraviolet rays. Erogosterol content is naturally higher in dried shiitake than in fresh shiitake. Vitamin D helps absorption of calcium, which in turn helps strengthen bones and teeth and prevent osteoporosis. Shiitake is also rich in fiber. Last but not least, shiitake has approximately twice as much Vitamin B1 and B2 than vegetables do, as well as a good balance of minerals, including potassium, zinc and iron. No wonder shiitake is considered to be a vital part of Chinese medicine.

The nutritional content of shiitake differs significantly according to where and how it is grown; therefore, using shiitake as a single source for these health benefits is not realistic (as with any food). However, this is really not an issue, because we eat shiitake on a regular basis out of habit, not necessarily for health benefits.

The shiitake widely available at local grocery stores (left in photo above) is generally very small, with umbrellas ranging between 3-4 cm in diameter. Those carried at Asian groceries (right in photo above; from a Korean store) are often larger, 4-6cm in diameter. When choosing, look for ones with no discoloration on the back of the umbrella and stems, and also those with thick umbrellas. Brown spots on the back of the umbrella and stem are a clear sign that the mushroom is already past its prime. Since shiitake does not keep long compared to some other mushrooms, it is important to select the freshest ones available. If you end up with too many fresh shiitake, try freezing them, first by wrapping with paper (to prevent moisture from coming in contact with shiitake) and then placing them in a container or plastic bag. It is said that shiitake's umami and nutrition intensifies from freezing.

When selecting dried shiitake, choose ones with thick umbrellas, if possible. There is a particular type with thick umbrellas called donko [gong gu]; this type is pricier than thinner shiitake but has superb aroma and a succulent texture when rehydrated, and gives excellent broth. Sometimes umbrellas are artificially curled to create a thicker look to deceive you; inexpensive products that seem to have thick umbrellas are suspect. I like to get my dried shiitake from a Chinese herbal medicine store.

One last note: Stems are also edible. They are usually tougher than umbrellas and are often removed, but do not discard them! Stems have more flavor, so after removing the very end, tear or slice lengthwise and add them to your dish or save for another use.

Fresh shiitake: 18 kcal/100 g; 91.0% water, 3.0% protein, 0.4% fat, 4.9% carbohydrate, 0.7% ash
Dried shiitake (dry): 182 kcal/100 g; 9.7% water, 19.3% protein, 3.7% fat, 63.4% carbohydrate, 3.9% ash
Dried shiitake (rehydrated): 42 kcal/100 g; 79.1% water, 3.2% protein, 0.5% fat, 16.7% carbohydrate, 0.5% ash

Recipes with fresh shiitake

Recipes with dried shiitake

Try shiitake in the following recipes

(Last updated: March 29, 2018)

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