Shiitake mushrooms are increasingly popular in various cuisines around the world. They are also used as a medicinal mushroom in some types of traditional medicine. Japan produces almost 83% of these edible mushrooms, many of which are dried before they are sold. (1)
Shiitake mushrooms grow naturally on the decaying logs of deciduous trees. But farms in Taiwan, Singapore, Canada, and the United States have begun to grow shiitake on synthetic logs for efficiency. (1)
Besides cooking the mushrooms and eating them as whole foods, people can also take shiitake in supplement form. This fungus is not only savory but also offers a host of health benefits. (1)
Benefits of Shiitake
Shiitake mushrooms offer numerous benefits for the body, from nutrients to possible support for the heart and immune system.
Nutrients in Shiitake Mushrooms
Shiitake are low in calories and high in nutrients. Just four mushrooms (about 15 grams) offer a variety of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals, including 1.44 grams of protein, 11.3 grams of carbohydrates, and 1.72 grams of dietary fiber. This amount also offers calcium, iron, and vitamins B5 and B6. The fact that shiitake are so nutrient-rich makes them an amazing substitute for people trying to pay attention to their heart health by decreasing the amount of meat they consume. (2)
Additionally, shiitake also happen to be the only natural plant source of vitamin D, with a 15 gram serving providing 6% of the recommended daily value. Vitamin D makes it possible for bones to absorb calcium and remain strong. (2, 3)
Shiitake that are exposed to UV light have a higher content of both vitamin D and calcium. Because of this, they have been suggested as a possible natural source for dietary vitamin D. A study on mice examined this suggestion by comparing the bone density of mice fed a low-calcium, low-vitamin-D diet and mice fed calcium and vitamin-D-enhanced mushrooms for four weeks. (3)
The mice fed the low-calcium, low-vitamin-D diet developed symptoms of osteoporosis. And the mice fed calcium and vitamin-D-enhanced mushrooms had a significantly higher bone density, as well as calcium-absorbing genes in the duodenum and kidney. More studies, including ones on humans, still need to be done, but exciting possibilities for shiitake and calcium absorption exist. (3)
Shiitake May Support Heart Health
Three specific compounds in shiitake may support heart health by lowering cholesterol. The first of these compounds, eritadenine, helps to speed up the removal of blood cholesterol. Sterols are the second type of compound. They help to block cholesterol from being absorbed in the gut. The third compound in shiitake that helps to lower cholesterol is beta-glucan, a type of fiber that is commonly known to reduce cholesterol levels. (4, 5)
Some studies on lab rats also suggest that shiitake could be an important tool to aid heart health. In one, researchers gave shiitake powder to hypertensive rats for nine weeks. The rats’ blood pressure and cholesterol levels both decreased. (6)
In another study, lab rats were fed a high-fat diet for four weeks. Some of the rats also received different amounts of shiitake. These rats had more promising outcomes than the rats who did not eat shiitake with their high-fat diet. They had lower cholesterol levels and developed less plaque on the walls of their arteries and less fat in their livers. These results suggest that shiitake may support heart health on several fronts, including lowering cholesterol. (7)
The studies on lab rats have revealed promising possibilities for future research on shiitake. The fungus’ effects must also be confirmed in studies on humans.
Immune System and Shiitake
Shiitake mushrooms may also support and balance the immune system. In a study involving 52 healthy young adults, subjects ate either five or 10 grams of dried shiitake each day for four weeks. Researchers tested their blood and their saliva for different cell types. At the end of the study, the researchers determined that the subjects’ immunity had improved and their inflammation had dropped after daily consumption of shiitake. (8)
Using Shiitake Mushrooms
People wishing to harness the benefits of shiitake for themselves can do so by either taking a supplement or cooking and eating the mushrooms.
Shiitake as Food
It is possible to buy shiitake mushrooms either fresh or dried. Dried shiitake tends to be less expensive and will last longer if you don’t plan to use all of them right away. Before cooking with them, rehydrate the mushrooms by soaking them in hot water.
Whether you’re cooking with fresh or previously dried mushrooms, remove and dispose of the stem before you get started. It will stay tough even if it’s cooked with the rest of the mushroom.
Shiitake mushrooms are savory and rich in flavor, making them a tasty addition to any meal. A quick internet search will reveal countless recipes using them in soups, pasta dishes, stir-fries, sides, and even for breakfast.
Shiitake in Supplements
People who want the benefits of shiitake but don’t want to cook with them may consider taking a shiitake supplement. Look for a supplement from a reputable manufacturer, and talk with your doctor before taking a new supplement to see how it may interact with medications and supplements you’re already taking.
Frequently Asked Questions About Shiitake
How do shiitake mushrooms grow?
Shiitake mushrooms are native to East Asia. They are a fungus that grows naturally on decaying logs. However, farms in several countries have started to grow shiitake on synthetic logs for the sake of efficiency and predictability. (1)
Why are shiitake mushrooms good for you?
Shiitake mushrooms have numerous health benefits. They are packed with nutrients but low in calories and fat. Shiitake are also the only dietary source of calcium and may assist in the absorption of vitamin D. (2, 3)
Shiitake also have a wide variety of other possible health benefits that are being explored in scientific studies. They may be supportive of heart health, the immune system, and other body systems.
- Royse, D. J., Schisler, L. C., & Diehle, D. A. (n.d.). Shiitake Mushrooms Consumption, Production and Cultivation. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/233523075_Shiitake_Mushrooms_Consumption_Production_and_Cultivation
- Mushrooms, shiitake, dried. (2019, April 1). Retrieved from https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html
- Lee, G., Byun, H., Yoon, K., Lee, J., Choi, K., & Jeung, E. (2009, March). Dietary calcium and vitamin D2 supplementation with enhanced Lentinula edodes improves osteoporosis-like symptoms and induces duodenal and renal active calcium transport gene expression in mice. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19093162/
- Guillamón, E., García-Lafuente, A., Lozano, M., D´Arrigo, M., Rostagno, M., Villares, A., & Martínez, J. (2010, June 13). Edible mushrooms: Role in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0367326X10001358
- Bak, W., Park, J., Park, Y., & Ka, K. (2014, September). Determination of Glucan Contents in the Fruiting Bodies and Mycelia of Lentinula edodes Cultivars. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25346611/
- Kabir, Y., Yamaguchi, M., & Kimura, S. (1987, October). Effect of shiitake (Lentinus edodes) and maitake (Grifola frondosa) mushrooms on blood pressure and plasma lipids of spontaneously hypertensive rats. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3443885/
- Yang, H., Hwang, I., Kim, S., Hong, E., & Jeung, E. (2013, December). Lentinus edodes promotes fat removal in hypercholesterolemic mice. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3829752/
- Dai, X., Stanilka, J. M., Rowe, C. A., Esteves, E. A., Nieves, C., Jr., Spaiser, S. J., . . . Percival, S. S. (2015, April 11). Consuming Lentinula edodes (Shiitake) Mushrooms Daily Improves Human Immunity: A Randomized Dietary Intervention in Healthy Young Adults. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25866155/