Shiitake – the Hidden Gem of Ordinary Mushrooms
When you think of medicinal mushrooms, most likely you’ll think of Reishi, Lion’s Mane, or Cordyceps. These three are the most hyped mushrooms in the supplement industry, which is well-deserving of their immunomodulating attributes. Similarly, if asked to name a mushroom you like to eat, you’d probably think of the white button mushrooms that go on pizza or the giant portobello mushrooms you love using to make stuffed-mushroom appetizers. But did you know that some mushrooms belong on both lists? Lentinula edodes is one such mushroom.
Better known by its common name – Shiitake, and evidenced by its semi-foreboding nickname – the Black Forest mushroom, this is one ordinary yet quite spectacular mushroom. The Shiitake mushroom offers several culinary and curative applications. This mushroom’s dual function is why it has enjoyed such popularity for so long, and why it needs to be on your radar.
They’re Tasty Mushrooms!
If you love cooking with mushrooms, you may already use shiitake in your recipes. If not, here’s a good place to start!
Native to East Asia, more than 80% of shiitake is grown in China, but you will also find it produced in Japan, Singapore, Canada, and the United States. It is so common that it is one of the most cultivated and consumed mushrooms, second only to the white button mushroom. In fact, you’ve probably seen some but might’ve mistaken it for a baby bella mushroom. Where? At the grocery store!
Along with those tasty button mushrooms and portobellos, shiitake is a common sight in the produce section. While button mushrooms are used because they are an easy, nutritional, low-calorie addition to any meal, shiitake mushrooms are desired for their rich, umami flavor. This is the primary reason they’re a popular choice in recipes that call for wild mushrooms. You’ll often find shiitake in miso soups, ramens, sauteed mushroom blends, mushroom risottos and more!
Shiitake also contains some of the same amino acids as meats and can have a meaty texture when prepared correctly. This makes shiitake a good substitute for meat in recipes like Vegan Meatloaf or Mushroom Bacon.
DID YOU KNOW?
Umami is a savory, meaty flavor and often considered to be the fifth basic taste alongside sweet, salty, bitter, and sour.
They Have Tons of Benefits!
Along with being a tasty addition in many dishes, shiitake mushrooms also offer a wide array of nutrients. Like most mushrooms, shiitake is rich in vitamin D, B complex vitamins, and minerals like copper, manganese, selenium, and zinc. Shiitake mushrooms also contain eritadenine, terpenoids, and sterols, and are loaded with immune supporting beta-glucans and other polysaccharides!
Because shiitake mushrooms are so nutritious, they’re used to improve general health. They are staples of Traditional Chinese and holistic health systems, and studies show they support immunity, healthy blood circulation, heart health (by supporting healthy cholesterol levels), and can also reduce the risk for cancer. 
Virtually all “medicinal” mushrooms contain polysaccharides and terpenoids that are anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and antimicrobial, all of which help defend and reinforce critical parts of immune response. Shiitake has three important, immune supporting polysaccharides: beta-glucans, heteropolysaccharides, and lentinan. Heteropolysaccharides support both immunity and longevity., Lentinan is a specific beta-glucan unique to shiitake that displays anti-cancer and anti-viral properties and may help repair damaged chromosomes. Studies have even shown that lentinan can reduce the growth and spread of leukemia cells.
As for beta-glucans, their immune support is only the beginning. Along with Shiitake’s unique sterols, they also support heart health by reducing the absorption of bad cholesterol from foods. Eritadenine pitches in by supporting healthy cholesterol levels in the blood.
The vitamins and minerals in shiitake are also beneficial, especially to your skin and bone health. Its Vitamin D helps your bones absorb calcium (without it, your bones can lose strength and become brittle), and also boosts your immune system and reduces inflammation – key factors in radiant, glowing healthy skin. Copper helps with the production and protection of red blood cells and promotes the formation of collagen, which is an essential part of your bones and tissues.
Incorporate this Tasty Nutrition in Your Diet
Although shiitake may not yet be as well-known in the United States as in Asia for its medicinal value, it will be with time! And it’s so easy to incorporate into your diet. You can enjoy its benefits through supplements like MyPure™ MYcoMune™, which adds shiitake to five other wildly beneficial mushrooms. Or next time you’re prepping a recipe that calls for mushrooms, use shiitake mushrooms instead of button or portobellos to get that extra burst of flavor and nutrition! Whether you’re vegan, vegetarian, or omnivore, anyone can enjoy this tasty mushroom!
 Wang, X. and Zhang, L. (2009) Physicochemical Properties and Antitumor Activities for Sulfated Derivatives of Lentinan. Carbohydrate Research, 344, 2209-2216. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.carres.2009.04.0
 Xu, Xiaofei et al. “Structure and immuno-stimulating activities of a new heteropolysaccharide from Lentinula edodes.” Journal of agricultural and food chemistry vol. 60,46 (2012): 11560-6. doi:10.1021/jf304364c
 Xu, Xiaofei et al. “Lentinula edodes-derived polysaccharide enhances systemic and mucosal immunity by spatial modulation of intestinal gene expression in mice.” Food & function vol. 6,6 (2015): 2068-80. doi:10.1039/c4fo01192a
 Patel, Seema, and Arun Goyal. “Recent developments in mushrooms as anti-cancer therapeutics: a review.” 3 Biotech vol. 2,1 (2012): 1-15. doi:10.1007/s13205-011-0036-2