They might be a type of fungus, but don't let that scare you away. Mushrooms are an excellent addition to your dinner plate: They're tasty, nutritious and versatile. Because mushrooms impart a fifth taste sense called umami, which is savory, hearty and "meat-like," mushrooms are an economical and nutritious way to enhance your meal.
One cup of raw sliced mushrooms has approximately 20 calories and are a good source of potassium and, depending on the variety, can provide selenium and copper. Mushrooms have significant amounts of three B-complex vitamins: riboflavin, niacin and pantothenic acid. The B vitamins help release energy from the fat, protein and carbohydrates in food. They also can be excellent sources of vitamin D if they have been exposed to ultraviolet light right before or after harvesting.
There are more than 2,000 varieties of edible mushrooms. They come in many shapes, sizes and textures. Some of the most common edible mushrooms include:
- Agaricus (White or Button): White button are the most common mushrooms to appear on grocery store shelves. They have a mild taste and can be used in just about anything from salads to sauces.
- Chanterelles: Chanterelles are funnel- or trumpet-shaped mushrooms with a fruity, apricot-like aroma and mild, peppery taste. Most are yellow or orange.
- Crimini or Baby Bellas: Crimini look similar to the white button, but are a little darker in color and have a stronger taste.
- Enoki or Enokitake: Enoki mushrooms are often used in Asian cuisine, particularly soups. They are long-stemmed and white, often packaged in clusters, and have a delicate flavor.
- Morel: Morels have a distinctive honeycomb-like shape and vary in color from light yellow to dark brown. They are earthy in flavor and should be cooked before eating.
- Oyster: Oyster mushrooms are smooth, trumpet-shaped and have a light flavor.
- Porcini: Porcini are reddish brown and have a nutty flavor. Try them in a classic Italian risotto.
- Portobello: Portobellos are larger, firmer and have a meatier taste. They make great "burgers" — try marinating portobello caps in Italian dressing and then grilling or baking.
- Shiitake: Like portobellos, shiitakes have a meatier taste and are better cooked than raw.
One word of caution: Don't pick and eat mushrooms in the wild that you don't know are safe. There are many poisonous mushrooms that look very similar to safe mushrooms.
Mushrooms provide plenty of opportunity in the kitchen. Try grilling, stir-frying and sautéing. Mushrooms can enhance certain dishes, but also can be a tasty substitute for meat in your entrees. Chop them up and mix them in lasagnas, spaghetti, chili, even mixed with ground beef to make a burger that's part mushroom and part ground beef. Some other ideas to incorporate mushrooms on your plate:
- Cook mushrooms in sauces and pair with whole-grain pasta dishes.
- Combine mushrooms and vegetables in whole-grain wraps.
- Skewer mushrooms, peppers, squash and tomatoes; then, grill until slightly charred.
- Top a pizza or fill an omelet with mushrooms.
- Add dried mushrooms to risotto dishes and soups.
Selection, Storage and Prep
Choose mushrooms with a firm texture, even color and tightly closed caps. They can be stored in the refrigerator in a paper bag for up to one week, but best used within a few days. To prep: Brush them off with your finger then rinse and pat dry with a paper towel or clean towel. Some mushrooms, such as shiitakes, should have their stem trimmed before cooking.