7 Lesser-Known Mushrooms With Major Health Benefits
Meaty mushrooms are a mainstay of vegan recipes, but most people don’t venture far beyond the trusty button or portobello mushrooms. There’s a staggering variety of edible fungi out there—all of it delicious. Beyond the intensely savory flavor, mushrooms bring a wealth of health benefits to your meals. In general, mushrooms are rich in B vitamins that are sometimes lacking in a plant-based diet, and they offer other nutrients like selenium, copper, and potassium as well.
According to the Harvard School of Public Health, mushrooms’ best benefits may stem from the non-nutritive substances they contain (think polyphenols and carotenoids). Animal research suggests these compounds have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects. They're also known to enhance our immune systems. Essentially, mushrooms are some of the best things we can possibly eat.
They’re also one of the most versatile plant-based ingredients out there. You can tear them into meaty shreds for tacos or sandwiches, sear them like steaks, and mix them with walnuts for a better-than-ground-meat mixture to top hummus, rice, or stuffed peppers. And the more varieties of mushrooms you get to know, the more you’ll love cooking with them. Below are seven ways to branch out from the button:
Shiitakes are a gateway mushroom: They’re popular in Asian-inspired stir-fry dishes, but the shiitake can do a lot more than that. They can stand-in for the usual fish in vegan sushi. Sliced thin, tossed with oil, seasoned with a little smoked paprika, and roasted at high heat, the mushrooms become crunchy and deeply savory. Use them in sandwiches or on salads just like you would bacon. Just remember to remove the woody stalks (it’s just the caps you want) and make your own umami-rich mushroom stock with them later.
The oyster mushroom can do almost anything another mushroom can do, but better. You’ll find this variety in shades of blue, gray, pink, and light brown. You can sautee them or roast them, but don’t cut them with a knife. Pull them apart into chunky shreds to emphasize their dense, meaty qualities. Pulled and roasted until the end bits are a bit crisp, oyster mushrooms can be tossed with barbecue sauce and served on a sandwich like pulled chicken. Of course, there’s reason to eat these mushrooms beyond their flavor. Preliminary research suggests that they may help protect you from breast and colon cancer.
3. Trumpet (aka King Oyster)
One of the trumpet mushroom’s coolest tricks is the way it can stand in for a scallop. Slice the long stem into thick coins, then lightly oil and pan-sear the rounds on both sides. This can make an impressive plant-based entree as well as a welcome addition to pasta or risotto. These big boys are also excellent candidates for the grill. Cut them in half lengthwise to create a big, flat surface perfect for showcasing those impressive grill marks. Also impressive? Trumpet mushrooms contain a kind of natural statin that can help keep cholesterol in check.
4. Hen of the Woods (aka Maitake)
Step aside, cauliflower. The hen of the woods mushroom is the plant steak you’ve been waiting for. Don’t let their roundish shape fool you. Film a large cast-iron skillet with oil and add your mushroom. Then weigh it down with another cast iron or another heavy skillet as it cooks. The mushroom will flatten into a steak-like shape and take on a wonderful dark sear after a few minutes. Then flip it and brown the other side. Not only are these mushrooms delicious, but research also shows that they may positively affect blood sugar.
These delicious orange mushrooms are difficult to cultivate. They are typically foraged in the wild, which means you’ll likely need to find them at a farmers’ market. If you do get a hold of them, it's a reason to celebrate. Chanterelles have a complex flavor and hearty texture that stands up well to rich and flavorful sauces. With a fruity aroma and deep woodsy flavor, chanterelles are best cooked simply, sauteed in a little vegan butter or olive oil, and served with something that doesn’t compete with them, like pasta or polenta.
6. Lion’s Mane (aka Pom Pom)
Much like the hen of the woods, a lion’s mane mushroom is a good candidate for steak-ing. Because it’s such a dense mushroom, there’s no compression required. (Though you can press them in just the same way for an even meatier finished product.) It’s easier to just slice and sear, as you would a cauliflower steak. Lion’s mane is also a great choice to cube up for a stir fry. They happen to be one of the best-studied medicinal mushrooms. Animal research suggests that these mushrooms may be especially useful for boosting the immune system. Other studies have found that these mushrooms may help with depression and brain health.
Long, slender enoki mushrooms are a common addition to soups. You may have had them in ramen. Their strand-like quality makes them a great fit for noodle dishes of all kinds. Unlike many of the other mushrooms, they are mild in flavor and more delicate than meaty. You can eat them raw, tossed into a salad or bowl, or cooked in soup or sauteed in a stir fry. They make a striking addition to crisp vegetable summer rolls.