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Mushrooms: Woodland Wonders

By on October 22, 2015

Mushrooms may be little balls of fungi, but they carry a lot of clout. Four or five mushrooms contain a legion of B vitamins plus the minerals selenium, copper, potassium, iron, and zinc. Those same four or five mushrooms, depending on the variety, even offer 1 to 2 grams of fibre.

Mushrooms are the only vegetable that contains vitamin D, and the winner in this category is the shiitake mushroom. One serving of shiitakes supplies 48% of the recommended daily value for this important sunshine vitamin.

Mushrooms also contain antioxidants, those fearsome fighters against disease. The antioxidant specific to mushrooms is called L-ergothioneine. (Try saying that one fast four times in a row.) Shiitake, maitake, and oyster mushrooms have the highest levels of this powerful antioxidant, followed by portobello and cremini (brown) mushrooms, then white or button mushrooms.

Most supermarkets have a dizzying array of mushrooms available these days. Here are some of my favourites.

White (a.k.a. Button)

These are those cute little mushrooms that everyone’s familiar with, and a good choice for the rookie mushroom eater. They have a mild, woodsy flavour and can be sautéed, used in side dishes, or added to soups.

Cremini

Sometimes described in stores as brown mushrooms, and usually about the same size as button mushrooms, these fungi are very popular. They have a rich, earthy flavour, and are delicious sautéed, baked, or added to rice, pasta, stews, or soups.

Oyster

Oyster mushrooms are light grey in colour, with a velvety feel. They’re extremely delicate and have a very mild flavour. Serve as a side dish rather than using them as an ingredient.

Porcini

With their deep, rich flavour and a hint of smoke, these mushrooms are used mostly in Italian-style dishes, and are fabulous in a risotto. Look for dried porcini in larger grocery stores.

Portobello

These are the really big mushrooms that look like small Frisbees. They have a deep, rich, earthy, meaty flavour and are great grilled or baked.

Shiitake

This is the superstar of the mushroom world. Shiitakes have a definite woodsy flavour and can be sautéed, stir-fried, or added to rice or pasta dishes. Cook only the caps because the stems are very tough. Save the stems for making soup stock. Shiitakes are also available dried.

Buy It, Store It

Gills aren’t just how fish breathe. Gills on a mushroom are the darker-coloured, fan-like strands on the underside of the mushroom cap.

In white and cremini (brown) mushrooms, the gills shouldn’t be visible. For all other types of mushrooms, tight gills are the key. The more open the gills, the less fresh or firm the mushroom will be. Pick out mushrooms that look and feel firm, not mushy, and that are dry and free of spots.

Most stores offer brown paper bags for loose mushrooms. The paper allows the mushrooms to breathe, unlike plastic, which acts as a slime accelerator.

Mushrooms also come in pre-packaged containers. Check them out as best you can. If you’re buying packaged mushrooms, leave them in the package until you use them. Once you open the package, store any leftovers in a paper bag.

Store mushrooms in the fridge and eat them within a couple of days of purchase. Depending on how fresh they are, they can last up to one week.

The great mushroom cleaning debate still rages. To wash or not to wash, that is the question. Tons of foodies will say don’t wash mushrooms. But after talking to many mushroom experts, I wash them lightly under cold running water, let them drain in a colander, and then pat them dry. But I only do this just before I’m going to use them. Remember that “lightly wash” doesn’t mean drowning or soaking them in a sinkful of water. All you really want to do is get the surface dirt off.3

Excerpted from "Healthy Starts Here" by Mairlyn Smith (Whitecap Books). Mairlyn Smith, a multi-talented home economist, teacher and actor, Mairlyn Smith loves to add a dash of comedy to her cooking. Born in Vancouver, Mairlyn always loved the view of the mountains from her parent's kitchen window. Mairlyn lives in Toronto with her son and her partner Scott who is the only person aside from herself who has eaten everything in her books seven times. 

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