Mushrooms are a top-tier pizza topping, but they don’t get a lot of attention in mainstream American cuisine outside of that. Edible mushrooms are extremely popular in Asian cuisines, as well as in vegetarian diets as a meat replacement. They’re also ludicrously healthy, potent little powerhouses of nutrition and vitamins with low calorie counts that can even reduce the risk of heart disease.
A lot of mushrooms are popular in traditional medicine, and although research suggests some degree of accuracy regarding the health benefits of mushrooms, they are far from a magical miracle. Don’t get us wrong, mushrooms are good for you, but according to what we know now, they’re not going to cure a disease or restore liver function or anything — they can contribute to a healthy and diverse diet.
That being said, here are the surprising (documented) benefits of our favorite varieties of edible mushrooms.
White button mushrooms are the most popular of all varieties of mushrooms — according to the Mushroom Council, about 90 percent of the mushrooms consumed in the United States are white buttons.
You may know the white button by its other names: portobello when large and fully grown or cremini when immature and brown. It's also known as the common mushroom, baby bella mushroom, table mushroom, champignon mushroom, and the Swiss/Roman/Italian brown mushroom (mushrooms tend to have a ton of different names). They’re the small-ish white or brown mushrooms you usually see at the grocery store.
White buttons are packed with nutrients including digestive enzymes and many of the B vitamins essential to good health. They’re chock-full of antioxidants, and they’re great sources of vitamin B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5, and phosphorous. They even help increase the diversity of gut flora.
Preliminary studies have even found that some of the chemicals in white buttons (conjugated linoleic acid specifically) can shrink and reduce the spread of some tumors.
Shiitake mushrooms are basically umami bombs full of savory flavors. When dried, those flavors get intensified, meaning this is an amazing addition to soups as well as stir-fry.
Like white button mushrooms, they’re amazing sources of phosphorus and vitamins B2, B3, and B5; shiitakes are also great sources of vitamin B6. If they’re dried, though, their nutrition levels spike, increasing the amount of vitamin B-6 and vitamin D, as well as magnesium.
The Japanese maitake mushroom, also called hen of the woods, looks a bit like a mix between a succulent and a pine cone, but it tastes a whole lot better than it looks. Like shiitakes, maitake is an umami king, offering rich and savory flavor to any dish. They’re even capable of being the main star of the meal.
They’re just as impressive health-wise — animal tests have shown maitakes to be beneficial for subjects with type 2 diabetes, while lab research suggests they can benefit the immune system. A single cup of uncooked maitakes (mushrooms do shrink once cooked, after all) contains nearly 200 percent of the daily requirement for vitamin D, as well as almost 10 percent of the dietary fiber requirement.
With almost 10 percent of the daily requirement for fiber and potassium in a single uncooked cup, oysters are another healthy and fairly common mushroom. They're also a good source of riboflavin and niacin.
They look like oysters (shocker) and, as it turns out, tend to taste like them, too (actual shocker).
The King Trumpet mushroom is a relative of oyster mushrooms that’s got a similar flavor profile with a much different appearance. With a long, thick stem and small brown cap, it looks more like a stereotypical mushroom.
Chanterelle mushrooms are usually a light golden color with a wavy top and white gills along its underside. They’ve typically got a vaguely fruity or sweet smell that’s typically compared to apricots.
Chanterelles are nutritional champs, with a single 3.5 ounce serving containing 35 percent of the daily requirement for vitamin D, 27 percent of niacin, 22 percent of pantothenic acid, and 27 percent of iron.
Their nutritional value is matched by their flavor value — although when raw, their peppery taste disguises their true flavors. Once sautéed in butter or oil, the chanterelle becomes rich and flavorful enough to compete with truffles.
Porcini mushrooms are usually sold dried instead of in their natural state, so they will need to be soaked in hot water before they can be used. This is fairly common — some of the other mushrooms on our list are more commonly found dried or dehydrated. While rehydrating mushrooms may seem unappealing, it’s not uncommon to hear chefs claim that rehydrated mushrooms pack more flavor than their fresher versions.
Once hydrated, porcinis are one of the top-tier edible mushrooms. They’ve got a great amount of protein and fiber, and they’ve got nearly 30 percent of the daily requirement of iron in a serving.
Porcinis are rich and earthy, making them a great ingredient in soups and stews. They’re even rumored to be the key ingredient of the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld's mushroom soup.
Enoki mushrooms have long white stems with tiny caps. They end up looking a little like a bunch of white zip-ties with rounded ends. Like all mushrooms, apparently, it’s got a ton of names: golden needle, futu, lily, spinning top, and even more for the wild varieties. We’re going to stick with the cultivated form.
Popularly used in Asian soups, enoki is a decent source for niacin and a great source for umami flavors.
Beech mushrooms (also known as shimeji mishrooms) come in two varieties: white (also called white clamshell) and brown (also referred to as just beech or brown beech clamshell). They’ve got white stems slightly thinner than their caps and grow in bunches. Outside of Mario’s mushrooms, these are probably the best fit for a stereotypical mushroom appearance.
They have a buttery, nutty flavor and are crunchy and firm in texture. They also offer a decent amount of riboflavin.
The lactarius deliciosus mushroom (AKA the saffron milk cap or the red pine mushroom) is a wild edible mushroom with a small stem and relatively flat cap. It’s got a distinctive salmon or orange color with darker spots. It’s mostly popular in European cuisines, although it’s managed to cross the ocean to the Americas.
While it’s got a decent supply of B vitamins and fiber, it’s got a more impressive variety of culinary applications. If you manage to get your hands on some, you can take advantage of its antioxidant and antimicrobial nature and crisp texture. It does well grilled and fits in a plethora of traditional recipes, too.
Last but certainly not least, the morel is one of popular edible mushrooms and one of the most sought-after edible fungi. Heck, it even has entire festivals dedicated to it. Morels aren't the prettiest mushroom with their long, pitted appearance, but they're renowned for their exquisite flavors. Plus, they're loaded with vitamins B2, B3, and D, and a single 3.5 ounce serving has 94 percent of the daily requirement of iron, 28 percent of the daily requirement of manganese and phosphorus, and 21 percent of the daily requirement for zinc.
Their taste has been described as nutty or meaty, and when cooked in butter, it reaches an entirely new level of gourmet. They aren't the cheapest, but check to see there's a local fungus group in your area that'd be willing to show you the ropes of morel hunting.