More and more people are realising the benefits of protein rich diets. Protein is the most important structural component of all cells in the body.
This important building block plays a crucial role in production of neurotransmitters, vitamins, antibodies and other important molecules our body needs to function properly.
According to the Institute of Medicine, the daily recommended dietary allowance of protein is at least 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. Thus, if you weigh 70 kilos, you’d need at least 56 grams of good quality protein per day. Unfortunately, many people are unaware of this and, as a result, remain deficient in protein.
The result: the body breaks down its own protein containing tissues to fill the gap. This leads to decreased muscle mass and unhealthy food cravings which in turn lead to obesity and a host of health issues. It is no wonder that more and more people are turning to low carb, high protein diets.
The question remains: what are the healthy protein sources for vegetarians? Apart from dairy, tofu, soya etc., are there any plant based foods that are rich in proteins? These questions have led experts to take a look at mushrooms mainly because many mushroom varieties like Portobello are used as meat substitutes.
The question on everybody’s mind is: since mushrooms taste and look like meat and are great to try with a glass of natural wine, are they able to fulfil our protein requirements? Can mushrooms help overcome protein deficiency? What is protein content of mushrooms? Which mushrooms are the highest in protein? And that is precisely the topic of this guide…
What are Mushrooms?
Mushrooms belong to the kingdom of fungi. Very few people know that 25% of Earth’s biomass is made by fungi. This means that nearly 92% of plants depend on mushroom mycelium to survive. Humans and mushrooms share roughly 85% of the same ribosomal DNA.
Not many people know it but mushrooms are used in more than 40% of pharmaceuticals available in the market today. Many drugs including penicillin, immune-suppressants and anti-cholesterol drugs on the market are derived from mushrooms.
Are Mushrooms Vegetables?
Superb fresh or dried, mushrooms can be used and enjoyed in a variety of dishes. Many people consider them to be vegetables, but, as stated before, they are not. They belong to the kingdom and fungi and unlike the bad rap they sometimes have got, are extremely nutritious.
The reason why mushrooms are not vegetables is due to the fact that they cannot manufacture their own food. They do not have leaves and hence depend on green plants to make their food for them.
Remember: there are many varieties of mushrooms and you cannot tell which ones are toxic based on their appearance and taste alone. Some very unpalatable mushrooms are harmless whereas others with an agreeable taste are extremely poisonous!
Are Mushrooms Just a Recent Fad?
More culinary experts today believe that mushrooms are ‘nature’s hidden secrets’. People love them for their meaty taste today, but their popularity is not new. Mushrooms have been around for centuries. Here are some interesting historical facts from a book by Bernard Jensen about culinary use of mushrooms:
- Mushrooms have been used as food and medicine in Japan and China for centuries. The Chinese have used mushrooms like reishi, shitake, maitake etc for health and medicinal benefits.
- The pharaohs of Egypt monopolised mushrooms for their use and benefit. They only allowed royalty to consume mushrooms and commoners were not allowed to touch them.
- Later, by 1st Century, Roman Empire started experimenting with mushrooms and the famous Roman poet Horace even mentioned them in his poems. Romans went on to call mushrooms the foods of Gods and served them during festive occasions. It was popular belief that warriors could benefit from mushrooms as they gave incredible strength.
- France was introduced to this super food during Louis XIV’s reign. Parisian market gardeners started experimenting with ways of growing edible fungi which led to their cultivation inside cellars and caves.
- Records show that British were already cultivating edible and medicinal fungi since 1700.
- Commercial mushroom production in the United States started only around 1890 when florists in Pennsylvania started growing mushrooms under benches in greenhouses. In early days, Americans believed mushrooms to be low in nutrition.
Today, mushrooms are cultivated in windowless buildings under controlled temperature and humidity. Their spawn is cultivated in the labs, under microscopes which are then inoculated to provide spawns with desired characteristics.
Mushroom growing starter kits are also available online and offline these days. Later in this guide, I will be reviewing an oyster mushroom growing kit that I have personally used for harvesting several flushes of delicious oyster mushrooms.
Are Mushrooms Healthy?
While consuming mushrooms for energy, immunity and longevity has been part of daily culture in many Eastern countries, the West is only waking up to their health benefits now. Most general consumers in West do not know the difference between shitake and Portobello.
Thankfully, all of this is about to change. More Western doctors are researching mushrooms like chaga and lion’s mane for their cancer preventive properties.
Today, experts believe that their anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties hold great promise to combat many of the modern health problems like cancer and diabetes as well as auto-immune disorders and nervous system attacks.
Current research shows that mushrooms have myriad health benefits including the ability to inhibit cancer cell growth. There is little doubt that in the coming years, we will be seeing more Western based research on the medicinal benefits of mushrooms.
Even the ordinary button mushrooms have some medicinal benefits, and plenty of less common varieties are loaded with nutritional and health benefits confirmed by research studies. Just recently, a leading mycologists, Christopher Hobbs, Ph.D., published a comprehensive review of medicinal mushrooms that cited 122 clinical research studies.
Although they are more or less colourless, mushrooms contain an equivalent host of nutrients, if not more, as those found in colourful vegetables and plants.
- B Vitamins - Mushrooms are rich in B vitamins like riboflavin/vitamin B2, pantothenic acid or vitamin B5 and niacin or vitamin B3.
- Antioxidants - Mushrooms are rich source of ergothioneinine - an antioxidant that can protect the body against oxidative stress and slow down effects of aging. One serving of white, Portobella or cremini mushrooms contains nearly 2.8-4.9 mg of ergothioneinine.
- Selenium - This is a mineral that can keep body cells healthy and even prevent certain cancers. For vegetarians, mushrooms are the highest source of selenium.
- Copper - This mineral is necessary for healthy bones and nerves. Lack of copper leads to decreased production of blood cells which are extremely important for transferring oxygen to all parts of the body.
- Germanium - Mushrooms are the few sources of this non-essential mineral. Germanium increases oxygen efficiency of the body, fights effects of pollutants and strengthens the immune system to fight diseases.
- Vitamin D - Vitamin D is only found in a few food sources such as milk, fish and fortified cereals. Mushrooms are the only item in the produce aisle that contain tons of vitamin D. The vitamin D content of mushrooms is increased even more thanks to UV light used during their cultivation. Light exposed mushrooms contain 400 IU of vitamin D (1 serving being 4-5 white or cremini mushrooms, or 1 Portobello mushroom!).
Here is a table showing nutrients found in 1 pound of mushrooms
As can be seen mushrooms contain proteins and many other nutrients. According to the book, Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World, mushroom protein content varies from variety to variety. The tough, inedible variety like agarikon contains 3% protein whereas the edible, ones like shiitake, nameko and Portobello can contain 33, 34 and 35% protein (dry weight percentage) respectively.
Likewise, a 20 gram (dry serving) and 200 gram (wet serving) of maitake can provide 5 grams of protein. Due to this high protein content, shiitake, maitake and oyster varieties of mushrooms have been used historically in Asian cooking as meat substitutes. It helps that these varieties also have a naturally meaty texture.
Mushrooms for Weight Management
Mushrooms are low in calories and fats and naturally high in fibre. This gives you a fuller feeling upon eating them. They are a great replacement for red meat. Today, some research has shown a link between red meat consumption and certain cancers. Thanks to their meaty, fulfilling flavour and texture, mushrooms are great replacement for red meat.
A study also showed that participants who consumed more mushrooms instead of red meat showed lower waist circumference, more weight loss and lower blood pressure. They were also able to maintain their weight better than participants of the study who ate red meat.
Many studies are underway for the cancer preventive effects of mushrooms. Their special bioactive compounds called beta glucans are known to exhibit anti-cancer activity and all mushrooms contain them. Beta glucans stimulate your immune system and helps suppress tumor growth. More research is needed, and human trials are also necessary to ascertain this for a fact.
Mushroom Protein Content - Popular Mushroom Varieties and their Nutritional Value
Today, we have identified hundreds of mushroom varieties but there are 10 main varieties that are true powerhouses of nutrition. Of these, the following varieties are readily available in most countries and also popular due to their unique tastes. Note how much protein is in these mushrooms and which mushrooms are the highest in protein.
- White button mushrooms/champignon - These have a mild taste that pairs with almost anything. Their flavour intensifies once you cook them. You can enjoy these in numerous ways including on pizzas, pastas, stir-fry, Mexican dishes, as curries or simply sautéed, baked, broiled or even raw in salads. Per serving of white mushrooms (approx 100 grams), you’d get 3.1 g protein, 1 g fibre and just 60 calories.
- Crimini- These have an earthy, hearty flavour which makes them a great addition to vegetable dishes or even standalone sautéed or broiled. Per serving, you’d get 1.8 grams protein, 0. Mg riboflavin, 0.4 mg copper and just 19.4 calories.
- Portabella/Portobello -Their deep, meaty texture makes it a great addition to burgers, stews, soups, grilled/boiled/roasted dishes. There is confusion whether they are ‘Portobello or Portabella’. As a matter of fact, both spellings are used. A serving of 100 grams will give you 3 grams of protein, 1%RDA of calcium and 3% RDA of iron.
- Enoki - These have a crunchy texture and mild taste. You can add them to salads and sandwiches. Always trim their roots before serving. They are a popular ingredient in soup stocks. Enoki is low in cholesterol and sodium and you’d get 1.6 mcg of folate per 3 grams serving. Enoki mushrooms contain 2.7 g protein per 100 grams serve.
- Oyster - These mild flavoured mushrooms are best sautéed in butter with a bit of onion or with steaks or pasta and cheese. A standard serving of 150 grams will provide you with nearly 5 grams of protein. Oyster mushrooms are difficult to get these days. So more and more people are actually growing this variety in their gardens. I have included the review of an oyster mushroom growing kit below. You can get many flushes of mushrooms from this kit.
- Maitake - This variety has a distinctive, woody aroma and taste. It makes an ideal side or main dish. You’d get 1.9g of protein and 2.7 grams of fibre per 100 grams serving.
- Shiitake -This is a popular mushroom variety having a very rich flavour. Today, shiitake mushrooms are extremely popular thanks to celebrity chefs who have experimented with them. They are also used in cosmetics for anti aging benefits! 100 grams of Shiitake contains nearly 2% of RDA of iron, 4% RDA of Protein (2.2 g per 100 gramas) and 10% RDA of fibre.
Oyster mushrooms are difficult to buy as they are not readily available.
Also, many people want to ensure that their mushrooms are 100% non GMO and organic. Thankfully, there is a convenient oyster mushroom growing kit available on Amazon.
Students and teachers can use this kit for their school projects and it is so easy to use that anyone can do it! Here are the pros:
- This single kit will give you many flushes of Pleurotus Djamor variety.
- Grow these mushrooms in the comforts of your home, in partial shady area.
- This is an addictive activity you can enjoy with kids. Follow the instructions to get several tasty flushes of mushrooms.
- Fun to grow, no green thumb required!
- Friendly customer service.
- People have grown 3, even 4 harvests from a single kit. See more details and order it here.
- For some users, the kit become mouldy but the company gives a guarantee that your mushroom farm will grow or we'll give you a full refund.
Not many people are familiar with ways of cooking mushroom. Mushrooms are delicious in soups, salads, appetisers, main dishes and even in desserts!
Yes, Tremella mushrooms and adzuki beans are common ingredients in many nutritious dessert recipes. If you are looking for some amazing mushroom recipes, look no further than Becky Selengut’s Shroom. Selengut is a chef and teacher and her book contains 75 incredibly delicious and tasty mushroom recipes.
- Chosen as Best Cookbook of 2014 by NPR
- Amazing photographs
- Includes 15 mushroom varieties
- Recipes range from simple to difficult such as black trumpet tart etc.
- Excellent gift for someone who loves mushrooms, so order the book here.
- Humorous and filled with personal anecdotes from the author’s experiences with fungi.
How to Buy, Clean and Store Mushrooms
Select fresh, dry (but not too dry) and plump mushrooms. If the veil under the mushroom cap is exposed, it means richer flavour. On the other hand, if the veil is closed, it indicates delicate flavour.
Use up mushrooms within a week of buying. Always store mushrooms in the refrigerator in a brown paper bag. Never store mushrooms in air tight containers as this increases their deterioration thanks to condensation. If you plan to freeze mushrooms, always cook them first. Never freeze raw ones as they will spoil. Many mushroom varieties can be dried ad stored for an extended period of time and then used in stews, soups and sauces.
Brush away the dirt from mushrooms. Wash them under running water or use a damp cloth or tissue to clean their surfaces. Never soak mushrooms as they absorb water. Trim the stems off before using them.
Mushrooms might not be the richest source of proteins but they will certainly help to balance and restore your immune system. Medicinal and healthy, mushrooms amp up blood circulation and oxygen flow to the cells and regulate blood glucose levels.
They are the ideal food for weight watchers and dieters. Regular consumption of mushrooms lowers stress and improves sleep quality. Mushrooms are now proven to cure myriad physical, emotional and mental ailments. Many mushroom varieties contain proteins.
Their overall low calories and fat content makes it a great food for people looking to lose weight. Mushrooms are great for vegans and vegetarians as red meat substitutes. Use the above mentioned cookbook to cook delicious and healthy mushroom dishes.
I am sure mushrooms will recharge your body, help you reach your full potential and even help you become the very best version of you!
Do you eat mushrooms regularly. Please share you favourite recipe below.