• Selange Giannetto

Mushrooms: The Fungus Among Us

Mushroom Myths

The mushroom fungus is likely one of the most beneficially important foods in human health and nutrition—Mycophagy, the practice of eating mushrooms; dates back to ancient times. It has long been a part of the human diet used as food as well as medicine. Mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of filamentous fungi which grow above ground. (Food and Nutrition Research 2021)[1]

Photo courtesy of Kalineri

"Many cultures had other weird and wonderful explanations for the fantastical origins of fungi. In parts of Africa, mushrooms were sometimes regarded as souls of the dead or as symbols of the human soul. In Silesia, morel mushrooms are believed to be the work of the Devil.

In parts of Central America, a children's tale relates that mushrooms are little umbrellas carried by woodland spirits to shelter them from the rain. The spirits leave the mushrooms behind at dawn when it is time to return to their underground world." (Fungal Folklore)[2]

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Fungal Facts

There are over 2000 species of mushrooms that exist in nature—Twenty-five are edible foods. Grown in various areas around the world, the majority are cultivated in China. The most popular varieties are; button (Agaricus bisprus), shiitake (lentinus edodes), oyster (Pleurotus ostereatus), enoki (Flammulina velutipes), and maitake (Grifola frondosa). One-half cup of button mushrooms has 23 calories and is packed with health-protecting potassium, riboflavin [b2], selenium, fiber, and plant phenols [linoleic, oleic fatty acids]. [3]


Small, cultivated mushroom. When eaten raw, they have a mild, earthy taste. The flavor is intensified when cooked.


Meat-like texture, woodsy, smokey, rich flavor and garlic-pine aroma. Shiitakes can lose their texture easily. Too much heat or oil detracts from the delicate flavor. Do not eat raw.


Smooth, velvety texture, delicate oyster like flavor. Use quickly after purchase. Lightly sauté, add to sauce, soups, or pasta. The flavor is easily overpowered. Do not eat raw.


A wild mushroom thats been successfully cultivated. This mushroom taste more like a grape than a mushroom. Has a crisp texture, mild lemony flavor when eaten raw. Cook very briefly as prolonged cooking causes them to become tough and stringy.

Nutritional Information

Here are a few of the major nutrients found in just half cup of mushrooms:

Calories: 7.7

Fat: 0.1g

Carbohydrates: 1.14g

Protein: 1.8g

Fiber: .35g

Sugar: 0.693g

Potassium: 111mg

Selenium: 3.26µg

Magnesium: 3.15mg

Copper: 0.111mg

Vitamin D: 2.45IU

Digging Deeper

Mushrooms are a low-calorie food with a nutritional punch. Rich in fiber, protein, and antioxidants. Each variety having its own health benefits. For example, mushrooms which are exposed to ultraviolet light are a good source of vitamin D, excellent for those following a strict plant-based diet.

Lowering Blood Pressure

Buttons and shiitake are two of the most nutritionally important. Shiitake mushroom consumption is associated with a lower risk of elevated cholesterol due to the chemical compound eritadenine. Rich in potassium, a nutrient that is known to reduce sodium's adverse effects on the body, potentially reduces blood pressure. [4]

Boosting the Immune System

Mushrooms also contain beta-glucan and are found to stimulate the immune system having an anti-inflammatory effect, enhancing the body's ability to fight disease, making you less susceptible to severe illnesses. [5]

Weight Loss

Combined with exercise and other lifestyle changes, mushrooms can have a substantial impact on weight loss. Obese and diabetic participants were asked to substitute 20 percent of their beef consumption with button and shiitake mushrooms. By doing so, participants showed improvement in their BMI [body mass index] and belly circumference. [4,5]

Photo courtesy of Supermarket News

Buying, Storing, and using mushrooms

Most markets stock mushrooms year-round. The available variety has grown due to the upswing of interest in gourmet cooking shows. When choosing mushrooms go for ones that are whole and dry. Look for those with spongy, firm, plump caps. Remove mushrooms from plastic packaging and store refrigerated in paper bags. In contrast, enoki and beech should be kept in their original containers. Clean mushrooms using a damp cloth or vegetable brush with minimal water to prevent loss of nutrients and texture changes.[6]

Mushrooms can be chopped and sprinkled raw over salads to add texture or sautéd with oil and seasoned with garlic and herbs. Here are simple ways to add more mushrooms to your diet.

  • Eat with tofu scramble in the morning

  • Sprinkle button or enoki mushrooms on salads

  • Use as an ingredient in pasta

  • Add to stir-fry along with other vegetables such as carrots, cabbage, green onions and broccoli

  • Add mushrooms as an ingredient to pizza

  • Slice king oyster mushrooms to make vegan bacon alternative

  • Breaded. baked or fried for a tasty addition to sandwiches

  • Meaty topping for grains such as grits or polenta

  • Cook mushrooms with garlic and olive oil for a flavorful side dish

Recipe ideas and serving suggestions for mushrooms

Easy roasted mushrooms Serious Eats Kenji Lopez

Cream of mushroom cauliflower rice Plant-based Dietitian Julienna Hever MS, RD

Oven temperatures vary, be sure to observe the mushrooms during the second phase of baking. They should appear crisp at the edges and golden brown. When baking, after applying hickory smoke glaze, take care not to allow mushrooms to burn. The sugar caramelizes quickly.


1. Agarwal S, Fulgoni, III VL. Nutritional impact of adding a serving of mushrooms to USDA Food Patterns – a dietary modeling analysis. Food & Nutrition Research. 2021;65(65). doi:10.29219/fnr.v65.5618 2. Virtual Museum of Canada (VMC). The Fungus Among Us. Published August 18, 2014. Accessed March 12, 2021. 3. Valverde ME, Hernández-Pérez T, Paredes-López O. Edible Mushrooms: Improving Human Health and Promoting Quality Life. International Journal of Microbiology. 2015;2015(2015):1-14. doi:10.1155/2015/376387 4. Resaerch (IJCBR) EIJ of C and B, Chatterjee B, Patel T. EDIBLE MUSHROOM - A NUTRITIOUS FOOD IMPROVING HUMAN HEALTH. wwwacademiaedu. 2015;2:34-37. Accessed March 12, 2021. 5. Ho L-H, Asyikeen Zulkifli N, Tan T-C. Edible Mushroom: Nutritional Properties, Potential Nutraceutical Values, and Its Utilisation in Food Product Development. An Introduction to Mushroom. Published online July 1, 2020. doi:10.5772/intechopen.91827 6. Richter H. Dr. Richter’s Fresh Produce Guide. Apopka, Fl.: Try-Foods International, Inc; 2000:37-40.

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