Shiitake characteristics and properties

The shiitake is a fungus that belongs to the group of Japanese mushrooms and is much appreciated both in China and Japan, as in the rest of the world. It has great properties that serve as a good food but it also has medicinal properties, among which its therapeutic properties known from time immemorial stand out. Its flavor is quite delicious and exotic much more than that of the mushroom. Between this flavor and its medicinal properties make it a mushroom that is among the most consumed mushrooms in the world.

In this article we are going to tell you all the characteristics, properties and curiosities about shiitake.

Main features

Although it is mainly known as shiitake mushroom, its scientific name is Lentinula edodes. It has a hat that in most of the specimens usually has a diameter that ranges between 5 and 10 centimeters. During much of the development of this mushroom, the cap has a convex shape but it tends to flatten and even depress when it reaches the mature stage. This is an indicator of the possible age of the fungus.

It has a dark brown cuticle that is quite uniform in some specimens. There may be a variety between different individuals since some mushrooms have discolored cuticles as you approach the edge of the hat. In these areas it has an ocher color. The hat is smooth at the beginning but lighter scales are used. The margin is of the involuto type in all young specimens. As they reach adulthood, two become incurved and may eventually become fully extended.

Another characteristic that serves to differentiate the shiitake is that its hat is not striated and has traces of the veil that disappear over time. It has whitish adnate laminae and turns brownish and acquires yellowish tones as it develops. These blades are close together and have a rough edge.

As for the foot, it is short but proportionate to the rest of the body. It is a type of foot full of meat and its color is similar to that of the hat. It has quite a few small fibers. It is curved at the base and has an area formed by the remains of the veil.

Lastly, the meat of this mushroom is thick and compact. It has a whitish color and a rather pleasant fungal smell. The flavor of this mushroom is very specific and its own. This makes it a widely consumed mushroom worldwide.

Habitat and range of shiitake

This species of mushroom is spread and cultivated mainly on woody substrate. It has naturally been located in areas close to the places where crops are found both in spring and autumn. In many countries it is a non-native species that bears fruit in groups. It does not become an invasive species.

The cultivation of shiitake began in the eastern countries 1000 years ago. However, its fame did not spread until recently when it was introduced to Western Europe. And it is that it has unmistakable characteristics although it may have some species for which it can be confused. We are talking about Neolentinus adhaerens. It is a rather rare species of mushroom that has some possible confusion with shiitake. The main difference is that it has a spicy flavor and lacks the flat scales of the hat.

However, there are not many problems when it comes to being confused since it is also a good edible with a somewhat peculiar but pleasant flavor. Medicinal properties are also attributed to this species since the antitumor polysaccharide is extracted from it and it is studied as an antiviral use. Therefore, the possible confusions of shiitake are not given too much importance.

Properties and uses of shiitake

If we analyze this type of mushroom in a nutritional way we can see that they have all the essential amino acids. It also stands out for having a large amount of minerals including a great abundance of iron, calcium and zinc. It is also high in vitamins of group B, E and D, unsaturated fatty acids and a large amount of polysaccharides.

It is a mushroom that for its medicinal properties is used against diseases that occur due to excessive cold. These diseases are: bronchitis, colds, rhinitis, flu and other viral diseases. These medicinal properties are attributed to it thanks to the fact that it has a series of active effects on diseases. Let’s analyze these active effects:

  • Lentinian is a polysaccharide that stimulates macrophages, lymphocytes and the synthesis of interferon. This means that shiitake can be used to inhibit the growth of tumors.
  • It contains a type of alkaloid called eitadenine that helps lower serum cholesterol levels and also has other defects in lowering blood pressure.
  • In addition to the polysaccharides and proteoglycans mentioned above, it has a high content of provitamin D. Vitamin D is what is extracted through sun exposure. These polysaccharides have antiviral and immunoregulatory effects.
  • Not only does it have polysaccharides but it also has disaccharide. An example of this is trehalose. It is a slow-digesting sugar that favors the development of Bifidobacteria brevis and Lactobacillus brevis in the colon. The development of these bacteria helps the intestinal flora.

Mushroom cooking

Shiitake has a very deep aroma that denotes the smell of earth, caramel, and nutmeg. This mix gives it a flavor that falls into the category of umami. Preferably it is better to consume fresh shiitakes. Once we have cooked them we can see that they have a softer and more delicate texture.

In order to cook them, we must soak them in warm water overnight or at least between 5 and 6 hours before using it. We can incorporate them into various types of soups or stews but you must always bear in mind that they must be cooked much more than the rest. We must remove the foot that is quite fibrous and we can cook them whole or in sheets.

I hope that with this information you can learn more about shiitake.

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