Stop the Mushconceptions!

You’ve probably enjoyed them sautéed on a burger or stuffed with breadcrumbs and Parmesan. But did you know that mushrooms are not just good, but also good for you?
One cup of sliced crimini (brown button) mushrooms is a good to excellent source of more than a dozen nutrients, including selenium, copper, potassium and phosphorus. Research has shown that shiitake mushrooms are high in antioxidants and phytonutrients that are beneficial in boosting the immune system—and newer studies have found that the common white button mushroom may even surpass the more exotic shiitake in nutritional profile. Mushrooms are a good source of several B vitamins, minerals including iron, and fiber; they’re low in calories and carbohydrates, too. Most mushroom varieties clock in between 15-30 calories, 0-1 grams of fat, 2-6 grams of carbs, and 1-3 grams of protein per 3 ounces.
But the real value of mushrooms is their flavor. Mushrooms are high in glutamate proteins, which produce the sensation of "umami," the fifth taste that we experience on our tongues (in addition to sweet, salty, sour and bitter). Umami is a meaty, savory taste that’s present in cured meat, ripe tomatoes and aged, fermented products like cheese.
Because mushrooms have a pronounced umami taste, they’re excellent flavor substitutes for meat in all kinds of preparations, and they add savory richness to vegetarian dishes. For example, try substituting chopped crimini mushrooms for ground beef in your favorite spaghetti sauce, or grill a portabella mushroom and top it with cheddar and all the fixings for a tasty burger alternative. It's worth noting, however, that mushrooms are not good sources of protein, so don't count on them as replacements for the protein that meat provides.
Types of Mushrooms
Once you’ve become comfortable cooking with basic white mushrooms, expand to the more flavorful varieties:

  • White button The snowy version commonly found in grocery stores, the white button mushroom is milder in flavor and flexible in preparation. Add raw sliced white mushrooms to salads or sauté them in olive oil and garlic as a side dish for grilled meat.
  • Crimini Also called ''baby bella'' mushrooms, these have a tan cap and an earthier flavor than the white button mushrooms they resemble. Crimini mushrooms are great cooked (roasted or sautéed).
  • Shiitake These umbrella-shaped fungi, with a rich brown color, have firm stems that should be removed. Shiitake mushrooms have a meaty texture and ''woodsy'' flavor.
  • Portabella This jumbo relative of the crimini can reach 6 inches or more in diameter. Firm and meaty, the portabella can be grilled whole and served on a bun as a burger-like, meatless sandwich with all the toppings.
  • Enoki Delicate stems topped with ball-shaped caps, these pretty, pale mushrooms can be eaten raw or added to simple Asian-style soups with tofu and vegetables in a clear broth.
  • Wild mushrooms Morels and chanterelles are among the many edible mushrooms that grow in the wild. Local-food enthusiasts are especially fond of these seasonal mushroom varieties. Buy wild mushrooms only from trusted sources, and don’t go foraging on your own without a knowledgeable guide, as some wild mushrooms can be poisonous.
  • Dried mushrooms Porcini (a variety common in Italy) and other mushrooms are commonly available in dried form. Their nutrition profile is denser (thanks to the drying), and their flavor more concentrated. To use dried mushrooms, soak them in very hot or boiling water to cover for 20 to 30 minutes, then remove them. Strain the flavorful soaking liquid through a sieve or coffee filter to remove any dirt, and save it to use in soups, stocks and sauces.
  • Canned mushrooms If you think you don’t like mushrooms, it’s likely because you’ve experienced canned mushrooms, which are a little on the slimy side. They’re fine in a pinch for spaghetti sauce, for example, but it’s so easy to prepare fresh mushrooms that you’re better off skipping the canned version.
  • Storing & Cooking Mushrooms It’s best to store mushrooms in a paper bag in the refrigerator and use them within three or four days of purchase. (Storing mushrooms in a plastic bag can cause them to get wet from condensation; keeping them at room temperature will cause them to dry out and lose nutritional value.)
Use a dry paper towel or soft brush to remove any dirt on the cap and underside (gills) of the mushroom, then trim the tough end of the stem. Remove the whole stem of shiitake mushrooms (or mushrooms you plan to stuff). Don’t rinse raw mushrooms with water; they act like sponges and will absorb the water, resulting in a less-than-pleasing flavor and texture.
Milder-tasting mushrooms like white buttons and enoki are excellent used raw in salads.  Brown mushrooms can be sautéed in butter or oil, roasted or grilled.
Mushroom Recipes Worth Trying
Whether you are a mushroom lover or just starting to dabble in eating more fungi, here are some delicious ways to add more mushrooms to your diet.
Triple Mushroom Sauté with Walnuts
This nutrition-packed dish would be excellent as a side dish for grilled chicken or lean steak. Portabella, crimini and shiitake mushrooms plus walnuts makes for a heart-healthy dish.
Pasta with Tomato and Mushroom Sauce
This dish has umami in spades: With rich, earthy dried porcini mushrooms and ripe roma tomatoes, plus a touch of cream to hold it all together, you’ll never miss the meat in this veggie pasta sauce. Serve sauce over spaghetti or penne pasta.
Mushroom-Walnut Veggie Burgers
Meatless burgers get a huge hit of umami taste in this recipe, which includes healthy whole-grain bulgur, pinto beans plus garlic and jalapeno for flavor.
Mushroom and 3-Cheese Pizza
Use a whole-wheat pita round as the base for this quick and easy pizza recipe, which is topped with mozzarella, goat cheese and Parmesan, plus sautéed crimini mushrooms.
Veggie-Stuffed Mushrooms with Cheddar
This recipe calls for large portabella mushrooms, but you could use smaller crimini ones for a healthy and delicious appetizer.
Mushroom Info. ''Varieties Overview,'' accessed August 2013.

The World's Healthiest Foods. ''Mushrooms, Crimini,'' accessed August 2013.

The World's Healthiest Foods. ''Mushrooms, Shiitake,'' accessed August 2013.