Photography: Jeff Coulson | Food Styling: Noah Witenoff | Prop Styling: Madeleine Johari
Edible mushrooms have been used for culinary purposes throughout history; other varieties—like reishi, that are too tough to eat—are also commonly used in traditional medicine.
Mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of certain species of fungi; technically, fungi are neither plant nor animal, they belong to a kingdom of their own because of the distinct ways in which they acquire food and reproduce. Prized for their savoury umami flavour, even a small increase in consumption of this superfood can offer potential health benefits. Don’t get left in the dark—read on to learn all about why the marvelous mushroom should be a mainstay in your diet.
- Amino Acid Abundance: Mushrooms are one of the highest dietary sources of ergothioneine, a unique amino acid with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. While cooking mushrooms doesn’t seem to affect their antioxidant compounds, microwaving or grilling them may actually increase antioxidant activity. Incorporating mushrooms into your diet can help to reduce the risk of chronic conditions. One study published earlier this year in Advances in Nutrition showed that higher mushroom consumption, and ergothioneine specifically, is associated with a lower risk of cancer. Another study found that higher amounts of dietary ergothioneine may also be linked with lower rates of neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
- Vegetarian Virtues: Recognized as an important dietary source of vitamin D, some research suggests that consuming mushrooms that have been exposed to UV light can be as effective in raising and maintaining an adult’s vitamin D levels as supplements. Vitamin D is essential for bone and muscle health, as well as modulating the immune system to help fight infection and reduce the risk of chronic diseases. Want to boost the vitamin D content of your mushrooms at home? Place them on a windowsill and expose the underside of the cap to sunlight for 1 to 2 hours. Along with being an excellent source of vitamin D, mushrooms are also a good source of vitamin B12 and protein, making them an excellent addition to plant-based diets.
- Alimentary Adaptogen: One of the major bioactive constituents of edible and medicinal mushrooms are beta-glucans, sugar compounds that act as adaptogens and immunostimulators. These polysaccharides are associated with mushrooms’ potential to help prevent and protect against the adverse effects of a variety of common conditions, including allergies, diabetes and obesity, due to their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Beta-glucans in mushrooms have been shown to stimulate an antimicrobial response in the immune system by activating macrophages (a type of white blood cell) and natural killer cells to protect the body from bacterial and viral infections, harmful organisms and diseases.
Try this superfood in our Wild Mushroom Pâté (pictured above).