Benefits of eating mushrooms
Mushrooms are low in fat and sodium, and contain a super-powerful flavour enhancer called glutamic acid, the same amino acid found in MSG (monosodium glutamate). Besides lending wonderful flavor to foods, mushrooms contribute more nutrition than you might think.
Mushroom nutrition benefits
Mushrooms provide a whole range of nutrients, not unlike those in meat, making them a great food choice for vegetarians. Cooked mushrooms are a good protein source, and are easily complemented by grains. They’re also high in iron, riboflavin, and niacin. They offer decent amounts of potassium, selenium, copper, and zinc; and they’re full of fibre.
Selenium is helpful for the body’s glutathione peroxidase, which is a potent antioxidant. Another powerful antioxidant, a phytochemical called L-ergothioneine, is plentiful in portabella and crimini mushrooms and is not destroyed by cooking.
Where possible, stick to cooked mushrooms. They’re higher in nutrients than raw mushrooms. For the same amount, you get up to four times the nutrients. This is because cooking mushrooms removes the water, concentrating the nutrients and flavour. Plus, hydrazines, which are toxic natural compounds in raw mushrooms, are eliminated when mushrooms are cooked or dried.
Researchers have found that many mushroom varieties have anti-tumour activity. And wood-ear mushrooms have blood-thinning properties that may help prevent the dangerous clotting that contributes to heart disease.
Mushroom selection and storage tips
Most supermarkets stock the white button mushroom, and many have expanded their selection to include the popular shiitake; trumpet-shaped chanterelle; sprout-like enoki; small, brown, intensely-flavored, spongy-capped morel; huge oyster; hearty-flavored portobello; and crunchy, often dried, Chinese wood-ear.
When selecting button mushrooms, look for those with caps that extend completely down to the stems, with no brown “gills” showing. If mushrooms have “opened,” meaning the gills are showing, they are older and won’t last as long. They are perfectly acceptable to use, but they’ll have a stronger flavour.
The colour should be creamy white or soft tan. Avoid those that have dark-brown soft spots or long, woody stems.
Mushrooms like cool, humid, circulating air. So store them in a paper bag or ventilated container in your refrigerator, but not in the crisper drawer. Don’t store them in a plastic bag, or they’ll get slimy. Mushrooms only last a couple of days, but you can still use them for flavouring even after they’ve turned brown.
Mushroom preparation and serving tips
- Don’t wash mushrooms; they absorb water like a sponge. Use a mushroom brush or wipe with a barely damp cloth.
- Don’t cut mushrooms until you’re ready to use them; they’ll darken.
- Use the trimmed stems to flavour soups.
- Mushrooms cook quickly. Overcooking makes them rubbery and tough.
- If you saute, go easy on vegetable oil. They’ll absorb it like water and become greasy. Try cooking them in a bit of wine instead.
- Due to their high water content, mushrooms add liquid to a dish once they cook down.
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