Vegetable, fruit, or fungi? That’s the big question when it comes to mushrooms. Well, vegetable and fruit can be crossed off the list since, scientifically, mushrooms aren’t technically plants, leaving fungi as the only other option. Even though mushrooms are a fungi, they’re still commonly classified as a vegetable.
But what’s the difference between a fungus and a vegetable anyways?
Well, for something to be a vegetable it must have roots, seeds, and leaves. Fungi on the other hand have none of those things. Fungi don’t even need light to grow. Yet, there are still some major similarities between fungi and vegetables, such as their cell structure and DNA makeup.
Throughout human history, mushrooms were believed to be supernatural in origin thanks to their hallucinogenic properties. Ancient Romans and Egyptians believed that mushrooms came from the gods and were natural signs of immortality. However, the fungi, namely shiitake mushrooms, were first cultivated in China and Japan in the 600s mainly for medicinal purposes. Other species of mushrooms, such as the enoki take, were more commonly consumed as food.
By the 1600s, mushrooms spread to Europe and had become a staple in French cuisine in particular. It was in France that the Agaricus bisporus, or the button mushroom — the most commonly consumed mushroom today — was first cultivated.
Mushroom cultivation wasn’t popular in the US until the late 1800s, but since then, mushrooms have become one of the most popular ‘vegetables’ among Americans and throughout the world.
Filled with essential vitamins and minerals, mushrooms are one of the healthiest foods you can eat. They’re high in protein and fiber, and low in calories. They also contain high amounts of selenium, copper, and magnesium, making them ideal for regulating and strengthening body processes.
The Top Health Benefits of Mushrooms
Mushrooms help prevent dementia
Mental decline, taking form as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, is one of the most devastating conditions a person can experience. Mental decline is also on the rise, with about 1 in 9 adults affected by it. Yet, there are certain things you can do to both treat and prevent mental decline, and eating mushrooms is one of them!
Mushrooms are a great source of the mineral called selenium. Selenium is critical to cell production and maintenance, thyroid health, immune system health, and protection against certain cancers. A selenium deficiency is a serious problem that can lead to fatigue, hair loss, infertility, and of course mental decline.
All mushrooms contain a significant serving of selenium, but shiitake, cremini, and portabella mushrooms have the largest selenium content.
Mushrooms improve bone health
Those suffering with brittle bones or osteoporosis may benefit from slight changes in their diet. An increased intake of vitamin D is necessary for both strong bones and muscles. In fact, a vitamin D deficiency can lead to the development of bowed legs, a stooped posture, and overall bone weakness.
It does this by facilitating and regulating the body’s absorption of calcium and phosphorus—two minerals your bones can’t survive without. Besides that, vitamin D helps the immune system function normally, and improves resistance to certain diseases.
As mushrooms grow, whether under natural or UV lamp light, they absorb a major amount of vitamin D. One cup of cremini mushrooms contains about 139% of the daily requirement for vitamin D. Even after mushrooms have been harvested, just leaving them out in the sun for a few hours can significantly increase their vitamin D concentration!
Mushrooms may improve your mood
High levels of sodium are linked to feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression. So, those with diets made up of salty or fast foods not only experience problems with their physical health, but problems with their mental health, too.
To counter the negative effects of high sodium levels in the body, you can increase potassium intake. Potassium reduces sodium levels by flushing sodium out through urine, improving your mood and overall mental health.
Increased potassium intake is also crucial for managing healthy blood pressure. It’s one mineral you definitely don’t want to be without. Luckily, just one cup of cooked white button mushrooms contains 12% of the daily potassium requirement.
Buying Mushrooms: What to Look For
Depending on what market you go to, you may find a very small or large variety of mushrooms to choose from. So, it’s important that you have a good idea of what flavor profile you’re looking for and what type of mushroom would work best for you.
Let’s go over some of the most common types of mushrooms:
The most widely consumed mushroom is the button mushroom. These round, white mushrooms are often the cheapest mushrooms, too. They have a mild taste that makes them great when eaten raw in salads. When cooked, they develop a richer flavor that lends itself well to most recipes.
Cremini mushrooms are very similar to button mushrooms—they’re the same variety, just at different stages of growth! Since cremini mushrooms take longer to grow than button mushrooms do, their flavor profile is a bit more complex and savory.
The oldest stage of button and cremini mushrooms are portobello mushrooms. These larger mushrooms have an extremely savory flavor that makes them an ideal meat substitute. Shiitake and king oyster mushrooms have a similar meaty, savory flavor.
No matter what variety of mushroom you buy, choose mushrooms that have minimal bruising and that don’t feel wet or slimy to the touch.
Once you’ve picked out your mushrooms, storing them is easy. Just keep them in their original packaging, or in a paper bag, in the fridge. They should stay fresh for up to one week.
With almost all mushrooms, both the stems and caps are edible. Button, porcini, cremini, portabella, chanterelle, and chestnut mushrooms all have delicious stems that work well in countless recipes. However, the stems are tougher and woodier than the cap, making them less desirable in some cases. It’s up to you to decide whether you want to cook with them or without.
Before cutting and cooking, note that mushrooms are rarely washed before being delivered to a market or grocery store, so make sure to thoroughly rinse them off under running water. Pat them dry with a paper towel or rag.
There are hundreds of amazing recipes that will put a spotlight on your mushrooms. Soups, pastas, pizzas, omelets, and stews make for perfect mushroom meal opportunities. Mushrooms even go well in burgers and ramen, too! However, mushrooms really stand out inside dishes. Sauteed, grilled, stuffed, or roasted, mushrooms make a great addition to breakfast and meat dishes.
Whether you choose to eat mushrooms as a pizza topping or in a salad, it’s the way you cook them that determines how nutritious they really are. Boiling or frying mushrooms can diminish their nutritional value, while grilling them increases their proteins and antioxidant content. Another healthy way to consume mushrooms is to simply eat them raw!