The Power of Mushrooms

They may not have magical powers, but the amazing versatility of mushrooms makes them powerful in the kitchen. Find out more about these “fun-guys” (get it?) and how they can lighten your meals and brighten your day.

FRESH MUSHROOM AND PARSLEY SALAD Giada De Laurentiis Giada at Home/We’ll Always Have Paris Food Network Large Button Mushrooms, Flatleaf Parsley, Olive Oil, Lemon Juice, Pepper, Parmesan

Photo by: Matt Armendariz ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Matt Armendariz, 2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

They may not have magical powers (well, not the kind we'd endorse), but mushrooms do have amazing versatility. Find out more about these "fun guys" (get it?) and how they can keep things interesting in the kitchen.

The Varieties

Mushrooms are commonly mistaken as a vegetable, but they're really a fungus. A whole mushroom is called a spore and consists of three sections: cap, stem and gills (the underside of the cap). Oyster, brown, portobello, shitake and white (a.k.a. button) are types you likely know, but there are thousands of other varieties available in different sizes, shapes and colors.

Nutrition Info

A cup of sliced mushrooms contains around 20 calories and provides a significant amount of nutrients in relation to their total calorie content -- top goodies include folate, thiamine, vitamin B-6, iron and zinc.

Mushrooms also contain a powerful antioxidant called L-ergothioneine, which has been linked to kidney and liver protection. Shitake, oyster and king oyster mushrooms have the highest amounts of this antioxidant; crimini, portobello and button mushrooms have lesser amounts but are still considered good sources. L-ergothioneine is found in chicken liver and wheat germ, too.

News on Health Benefits

A newly published study suggests that women who eat plenty of mushrooms may have a lower risk of developing breast cancer. The study looked at more than 2,000 Chinese woman and found that the more dried and fresh mushrooms the women consumed, the lower their risk was.

Old Wives' Tales

For those with an interest in the more exotic, some wild varieties might be the thing. Popular ones include enoki, cépe, chanterelle and puffball. Going to the forest and picking your own mushrooms may sound appealing, but there are many poisonous (and deadly!) mushrooms out there. Some of my former culinary students used to tell me the tale of the silver coin -- if the coin changes color when cooking wild mushrooms, then the mushrooms are poisonous. First, don’t cook your food with coins! Second, this is not true. If you’re a novice mushroom picker, always go with an expert, as this New York Times article explains.

Uses for Mushrooms

Always make sure to brush or gently wash the dirt from the mushrooms before using. Since cooking over high heat for long periods of time destroys vitamins, quick sautéing or stir-frying helps maintain their nutritional value.

Mushrooms add a meaty flavor (called umami) to dishes and can replace part of the meat in recipes (just like in this Turkey-Mushroom Burger). This is helpful for those looking to create heart-healthy meals and lower the saturated fat and cholesterol in their diets. Mushrooms can also replace the meat in dishes, which is a great choice for vegetarians.

There are endless ways to incorporate mushrooms into your meals. Add raw mushrooms to salads or sautéed mushrooms to a bed of greens. Create a mushroom pasta dish, add to a quiche or top a pizza. Mushroom sauces are a light way to flavor your chicken or pork -- the possibilities are endless!

Shopping Tip: Choose fresh mushrooms that are firm and evenly colored. Avoid those that are broken, damaged or have soft spots. If all the gills are showing, the mushroom is no longer fresh. Store unwashed mushrooms in the refrigerator in a paper bag for 5 to 6 days.

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