By Rena Unger | May 24, 2011

Photo: Rena Unger

Mushrooms typically get a love ‘em or hate ‘em reaction. Their texture simply isn’t for everyone. For those who can get past and enjoy their unique texture, there are amazing health benefits that Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda attribute to vitality and long life.

Mushrooms are technically the fruit of the fungus. Widely used in Asia, mushrooms are valued around the globe for adding depth and flavor to a variety of culinary creations, most commonly vegetarian. There are 100’s of varieties, many with a long history as a medicinal healing plant. So where do they get their incredible healing power from? Mushrooms grow on decaying organic matter (largely feces). They consume, absorb and transform toxins to create their own life force. When ingested, they have the same effect in our body; mushrooms absorb and eliminate destructive toxins, cleanse dangerous fat from our blood and transform harmful pathogens and stagnant mucus.

Photo: Rena Unger

Mushrooms contain glutamic acid a natural flavor enhancer as powerful as MSG and are also know for being:

  • High in protein
  • High in B vitamins: B1 (thiamine),  B2 (riboflavin), B3 (Niacin), B7 (Biotin) and in some cases B12 (cobalamin)
  • High in minerals: iron, zinc, selenium, phosphorus and potassium
  • Powerful immune system enhancers
  • Anti-carcinogenic
  • Anti-viral

Mushrooms are super health heroes and some have their own unique super powers:

  • Shiitake – One of the most popular and recommended immune boosting foods in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Linked to cancer prevention & treatment, lowers high blood pressure, stabilizes high cholesterol and combats viral diseases including influenza and HIV. Claims support that shiitakes produce an extract stronger than AZT (first approved treatment for AIDS/HIV). Add the shiitake caps to any dish and use the stems for making stock.
  • Enoki - Long slender white mushrooms with tiny caps indigenous to Asia and used primarily in Chinese, Japanese and Korean cuisine. Enoki’s have a very mild and delicate flavor. Known for protecting against degenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s, diabetes, cancer and heart disease. Saute enoki mushrooms and deglaze with white wine for a great noodle like side dish.
  • Button - Common in North America, button mushrooms are the immature state of criminis and baby bellos. Button mushrooms are attributed to reducing inflammation associated with many conditions including arthritis.
  • Maitake/Hen of the Woods – Found in Japan, Korea and North America, maitakes grow on the base of trees. Traditional Chinese medicine attributes their healing power to fostering balance, boosting immunity, lowering cholesterol, stabilizing blood sugar and regulating blood pressure. Maitakes are delicious roasted and sauteed.
  • Oyster – Long history of being used in Asian cuisine and now common all over the world. Oyster mushrooms contain powerful statins that lower cholesterol. A great addition to any stir fry or sauteed dish.

Mushrooms are mighty; all you need is a little bit to reap their incredible benefits! They are easily added and can enhance practically any dish.  Check out my recipe below for Sprouted Bean & Quinoa Salad garnished with Crispy Shiitakes. I can’t take credit for the Crispy Shiitakes; this recipe is a staple at the Natural Gourmet Institute where I attended the Chef’s Training Program. The result is crispy little mushrooms that taste like bacon!

Eat well!

Rena Unger - Holistic Nutrition Chef & Culinary Educator

If you would like to reach out to Rena Unger personally please click here.

  • 1/2 cup shelled Edamame
  • 1/2 cup grated Carrots
  • 1/2 cup Yellow Bell Pepper, diced
  • 1/4 cup Scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup chopped basil
  • 1 cup prepared Quinoa
  • 1/2 cup Sprouted Beans
  • Salt
  • 2 tbsp Lime Juice
  • 2 tbsp Tamari
  • 2 tbsp Toasted Sesame Oil
  • 1 tbsp Brown Rice Vinegar
  • 1 tbsp Maple Syrup
Crispy Shiitakes
  • 8 oz shiitake mushrooms
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt


To Make Crispy Shiitakes:

Preheat oven to 400.
Remove stems, discard or reserve for another use. Thinly slice shiitake caps. Liberally coat with extra virgin olive oil and salt
Bake for 5-10 mins. Watch carefully, they can burn easily!

To Make Salad:

Mix Quinoa, sprouted beans and vegetables
Combine lime juice, tamari, sesame oil, vinegar and maple syrup. Salt to taste, if necessary. Stream dressing over salad until well coated
Mix in basil. Serve immediately or chill overnight
Garnish with Crispy Shiitakes

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