Celebrating the Fungus Among Us

Fungi have existed on earth for as long as 438 million years. The groups that produce fruiting bodies or mushrooms have existed for at least 286 million years. By the time humans emerged on the planet 6 to 10 million years ago, mushrooms had been around for quite some time and had probably already co-evolved with some animals.

About 3,000 kinds of mushrooms are edible, and another 1,400 are poisonous. Ancient Greeks, Egyptians, Romans, Chinese, and Mesoamericans used mushrooms for food, medicine, and religious ceremonies. Mushrooms were enjoyed by the pharaohs of ancient Egypt over 4,600 years ago. Because they believed that mushrooms symbolized immortality, the pharaohs decreed them reserved for royalty, assuring themselves the entire supply. Other civilizations throughout the world, including Russia, practiced mushroom rituals. Many believed that mushrooms had supernatural powers that could help in finding lost objects, produce super-human strength, and lead souls to the afterlife.

The first recorded accounts of mushroom cultivation are of Wood Ear (Auricularia auricular) cultivated on wood logs in China around 600 A. D., followed by Enoki (Flammulina velutipes – A. D. 800) and Shiitake (Lentinula edodes – A. D. 1000), both also cultivated by the wood log method.

Louis XIV may have overseen the first European mushroom cultivation in caves near Paris. Later, English gardeners found that they were able to grow mushrooms easily with little labor or space. In the late 19th century, mushrooms made their way to the United States. Mushroom cultivation technology advanced significantly when the button mushroom (Agaricus bisporus) was cultivated on horse manure and other composted substrates.

The number of cultivated mushroom species increased dramatically during the 1980s and 1990s along with the increase in worldwide mushroom production, from 0.9 million tons in 1975 to 6.1 million tons in 1997, though the number of species available to the general public is still just a few.

Mushrooms are low in calories, carbohydrates, fat, and sodium. They are 80 to 90% water, and high in protein and fiber. Mushrooms are high in niacin, riboflavin, folate, phosphorus, iron, pantothenic acid, zinc, magnesium, vitamin B6, and thiamine. Mushrooms are high in potassium, which helps the body process sodium and lower blood pressure. All mushrooms are an excellent source of the antioxidant selenium, which works with vitamin E to protect cells from damaging free radicals and fight cancer. Shiitake mushrooms in particular are also high in the beta-glucan Lentinan, which strengthens the immune system and helps combat illnesses that attack the immune system like AIDS. Mushrooms are high in copper, which helps protect the cardiovascular system. Mushroom extract has been linked to some treatments for both migraines and mental disorders. White button mushroom extract has been found to reduce the size of some cancer tumors and slow down the production of some cancer cells, especially in breast and prostate cancer. Shiitake mushrooms dried outdoors with gills up and exposed to sunlight for two days, six hours per day have a vitamin D level of 46,000 IU per 100 grams versus 100 IU/100 grams for mushrooms dried indoors.

Fresh mushrooms add flavor, texture, and interest to meals. There is no need to peel them. Trim the stem end, if it’s dry, or the tough stem portion of shiitakes or the root of the portabella. All other mushroom stems may be prepared along with the caps. Mushrooms can be sliced thick or thin, cut in quarters, coarsely or finely chopped using a sharp knife. For slicing or chopping large quantities, use a food processor with the slicing or wing blade attachment. If a recipe calls for just caps, twist stems loose or separate them from the caps with the tip of a knife. You can enjoy mushrooms raw or cooked. Sautéing is the most popular way to cook mushrooms. Spritz a pan with a small amount of oil, water, or broth. Add mushrooms. Cook and stir until golden and the released juices have evaporated, about five minutes. Don’t overcrowd the skillet or the mushrooms will steam rather than brown. Microwave mushrooms by putting eight ounces of thickly sliced mushrooms in a microwaveable bowl; cover and cook on high (100% power) for two to three minutes, stirring once. Roast mushrooms by placing them in a shallow baking pan spritzed with a little oil and roast in a 450-degree F oven, stirring occasionally until brown, about 20 minutes. Larger-capped mushrooms like portabellas and shiitakes can be grilled or broiled. Lightly spritz caps and stems with oil to keep them moist, and season with salt and pepper. Grill or broil 4 to 6 inches from heat source for 4 to 6 minutes on each side, spritzing with oil or water once or twice. Virtually any and all seasonings go well with mushrooms.

Here are some ANDI scores for mushrooms:

  1. Crimini and Shiitake 238
  2. White 199
  3. Portobello 193
  4. Maitake 150
  5. Oyster 135*

*This was the “old” ANDI score for all mushrooms. In the revised scoring system, Dr. Fuhrman upgraded many edible mushrooms, but makes no mention of oyster mushrooms. If anyone has an updated ANDI score for them, please let me know.


This blog uses the latest nutritional data available from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), and the FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration), as well as nutritional data provided by food growers and manufacturers about their products. We believe the information on this website to be accurate. However, we are not responsible for typographical or other errors. Nutrition information for recipes is calculated by Living Cookbook based on the ingredients in each recipe based on statistical averages. Nutrition may vary based on methods of preparation, origin and freshness of ingredients, and other factors.

This blog is not a substitute for the services of a trained health professional. Although we provide nutritional information, the information on this blog is for informational purposes only. No information offered by or through this blog shall be construed as or understood to be medical advice or care. None of the information on this blog should be used to diagnose or treat any health problem or disease. Consult with a health care provider before taking any product or using any information on this blog. Please discuss any concerns with your health care provider.

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