Shiitake Mushrooms

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What are shiitake mushrooms?

Shiitake are edible mushrooms native to East Asia.

They’re tan to dark brown, with caps that grow between 2 and 4 inches (5 and 10 cm).

While typically eaten like vegetables, shiitake are fungi that grow naturally on decaying hardwood trees.

Around 83% of shiitake are grown in Japan, although the United States, Canada, Singapore, and China also produce them (1).

You can find them fresh, dried, or in various dietary supplements.

Shiitake mushrooms are brown-capped mushrooms used around the world for food and as supplements.

Shiitake mushrooms are one of the most popular mushrooms worldwide.

They are prized for their rich, savoury taste and diverse health benefits.

Compounds in shiitake may help fight cancer, boost immunity, and support heart health.

This article explains everything you need to know about shiitake mushrooms.

How are they used?

Shiitake mushrooms have two main uses — as food and as supplements.

Shiitake as whole foods

You can cook with both fresh and dried shiitake, although the dried ones are slightly more popular.

Dried shiitake have an umami flavour that’s even more intense than when fresh.

Umami flavour can be described as savoury or meaty. It’s often considered the fifth taste, alongside sweet, sour, bitter, and salty.

Both dried and fresh shiitake mushrooms are used in stir-fries, soups, stews, and other dishes.

Shiitake as supplements

Shiitake mushrooms have long been used in traditional Chinese medicine. They’re also part of the medical traditions of Japan, Korea, and Eastern Russia (4).

In Chinese medicine, shiitake are thought to boost health and longevity, as well as improve circulation.

Studies suggest that some of the bioactive compounds in shiitake may protect against cancer and inflammation (4).

However, many of the studies have been done in animals or test tubes rather than people. Animal studies frequently use doses that far exceed those that people would normally get from food or supplements.

In addition, many of the mushroom-based supplements on the market have not been tested for potency (5).

Although the proposed benefits are promising, more research is needed.

How to cook with shiitake

Mushrooms have a distinct umami flavour, which can be especially helpful when making vegetarian dishes.

Shiitake mushrooms are often sold dried. Before cooking, soak them in hot water to soften them.

To select the best specimens, look for ones sold whole rather than sliced. The caps should be thick with deep, white gills.

When cooking with fresh shiitake mushrooms, remove the stems, which remain tough even after cooking. Save the stems in the freezer for making veggie stock.

You can cook shiitake as you would any other mushroom. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Sauté shiitake with greens and serve with a poached egg.
  • Add them to pasta dishes or stir-fries.
  • Use them to make a flavourful soup.
  • Roast them for a crispy snack or side dish.
Possible side effects

Most people can safely consume shiitake, although some side effects may occur.

In rare cases, people can develop a skin rash from eating or handling raw shiitake (23Trusted Source).

This condition, called shiitake dermatitis, is thought to be caused by lentinan (24Trusted Source).

In addition, using powdered mushroom extract over a long period may cause other side effects, including stomach upset and sensitivity to sunlight (25Trusted Source, 26Trusted Source).

Some also claim that mushrooms’ high purine levels can cause symptoms in people with gout. Nonetheless, research suggests that eating mushrooms is linked to a lower risk of gout (27Trusted Source).

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