Ninety percent of mushrooms eaten in the United States are the familiar white buttons. Though it’s not the most potent variety, it’s still good.
“The common white button is a healthy choice,” says William Li, MD. “They are a good source of beta-glucan, a soluble fiber that stimulates the immune system.”
More adventurous eaters have probably tried creminis and portobellos, which are browner and slightly meatier than white buttons. The portobello, with a cap size of up to 6 inches across, packs the most umami, says Eugenia Bone, author of The Kitchen Ecosystem: Integrating Recipes to Create Delicious Meals, because it is the largest and most mature, meaning it has spores.
Once you’re comfortable eating those mushrooms, consider branching out.
“Different mushrooms — just like different nuts and seeds — supply your body with different nutrient profiles,” explains Angela Lemond, RDN. “White buttons have the most potassium, portobellos are rich in antioxidants, and oyster and shiitake contain [abundant] beta-glucan, a powerful prebiotic.”
Mushrooms pair nicely with other umami-rich foods, including cheese and meats, and fermented foods, like tempeh. “You can grill them, roast them, sauté them, boil them, scallop them, or eat them raw,” says Bone. “The variations are endless.”
These tips can help you make the most of your mushrooms.
1. Look for uniformly colored mushrooms, because dark spots may mean they are past their prime. Buy them whole rather than precut. Li says that preslicing mushrooms leads to the faster breakdown of their active nutrients.
2. Store fresh mushrooms for up to a week in a cool, dry place. Li’s first choice is a root cellar because of the low humidity, but a refrigerator is fine. Store them in a brown paper bag and leave the top open for moisture to escape. “People don’t realize how humid their refrigerators are,” he says. “Moisture promotes spoilage.”
3. Rinse sturdier varieties of mushrooms under running water and pat them dry with a dish towel. This can work for white buttons and other firmer types. More delicate varieties will absorb some water, and because mushrooms are 90 percent water to begin with, adding more can dilute their flavor.
4. Clean more tender varieties by removing dirt and grit with a damp paper towel or, better yet, a clean, soft-bristled toothbrush or mushroom brush, a tool that removes dirt without adding moisture. “If you are a mushroom aficionado, go for the brush,” says Li. “Otherwise, brushing or rinsing them is perfectly fine.”
5. Cook mushrooms, Bone recommends, by thinking of them as any other protein and going either “low and slow, or fast and hot.”
Low and slow is best for soups and stews: Though some of the nutrients will leach out of the mushrooms, they will stay in the broth. To go fast and hot, sauté quickly in butter and a splash of wine, toss into a hot wok, or put marinated portobellos on the grill. A burst of heat is all that’s needed to unleash maximum flavor.
6. Swap mushrooms into recipes if you’re hesitant about eating them. This is known as “the blend”: Replace a portion of ground meat with mushrooms, then prepare as you would otherwise. (Finely chop the mushrooms and cook them down before adding in the ground meat.) This adds the mushrooms’ micronutrients to a dish.
Lemond suggests using the blend for hamburgers, meatloaf, and meatballs. “Play around with the proportion that tastes best to you,” she says. “It’s an easy way to increase the nutrients in your favorite meaty recipes.” (For our mushroom-walnut burger recipe, see “Mushroom Walnut Burgers”.)
This was excerpted from “Friendly Fungi” which was published in Experience Life magazine.