• Mushrooms: Unearthing a Superfood

    Mushrooms - Unearthing a Superfood 

    stackofportabellasNutritionists often urge people to eat colorful fruits and vegetables, but there's plenty of nutrition on the Dark Side, too. In fact, mushrooms deliver some nutrients—like selenium and vitamin D—that are rare in the produce aisle. And that's a big help for vegetarians and vegans, who may have difficulty getting enough of these key nutrients from plant sources. 

    Compared to their calories (they don't have many), mushrooms provide a lot of essential vitamins and minerals. That's why nutritionists call them "nutrient rich." They're high in some B vitamins (niacin, riboflavin and pantothenic acid), potassium and vitamin D. You won't find vitamin D—the "sunshine vitamin"—in other fresh produce. Mushrooms are the only plant source.

    superfoodScientists continue to study the role of antioxidants in disease prevention. They know that these compounds protect cells from damage so they may help prevent cancer or delay other age-related diseases. Antioxidants also boost the immune system, another way to combat illness. Mushrooms contain at least two known antioxidants-selenium and ergothioneine, an amino acid. Oyster and shiitake mushrooms are also good sources of beta-glucans, a molecule that activates the immune system. 

    If you struggle to manage your weight, mushrooms can help. They're a low-density food, meaning they satisfy your hunger with few calories. By combining mushrooms with a higher-density food, like ground beef, you can reduce fat, cholesterol and calories without sacrificing that sense of fullness.

    Putting Umami to Work

    Sensory scientists now agree that our palates can discern five basic tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami. The fifth taste-umami (oo-MAH-mee)-went unnamed until the early 20th century, when a Japanese scientist detected the flavor in kombu, the seaweed used in Japanese stock. He knew it wasn't sweet, sour, salty or bitter, but what was it? 

    shitake-pork-dumplingsHe traced the taste to glutamates, the salts of glutamic acid. Foods high in naturally occurring glutamates-like shiitake and other dark mushrooms-have an intense, concentrated savory taste. Kikunae Ikeda, the professor who made the discovery, named the sensation umami, from umai (delicious) and mi (taste). Delicious taste. That pretty well describes mushrooms, doesn't it? 

    Today, sensory researchers are asking whether high-umami ingredients like mushrooms might work as a meat substitute-a change that would make many recipes more healthful and less costly. But would diners embrace it? 

    To try to answer that question, the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone collaborated on a research project with the University of California at Davis. Study participants sampled tacos made with six different fillings, from 100% beef with full salt to 80% mushroom/20% beef with reduced salt. "Consumers were very accepting" of the part-mushroom filling, says Amy Myrdal Miller, MS, RD, senior director of programs and culinary nutrition at the CIA. Tasters noted that the mushrooms enhanced the filling's aroma, texture and moisture. 

    wholebuttonsauteedCooking technique can influence umami, says Miller, making a mushroom-meat blend even more satisfying. "The mushrooms that had the most caramelization, whether seared or oven-roasted, had the most umami, the most intense flavor," says the nutritionist. "By not crowding your mushrooms, you get that caramelized edge. It's called the Maillard reaction and it intensifies our sense of umami in food." 

    All mushrooms are high in umami, but the darker ones have the most. So if you want to experience the essence of this fifth taste, sear sliced portabella mushrooms until the edges brown and sizzle. That's umami!
  • Mushroom Fact
    FUN-GI FACT 8

    Food-savvy vegetarian customers expect unique, savory and delicious vegetarian options, rather than a token veggie pasta dish. Mushrooms make a vegetarian dish a meaty and satisfying meal for vegetarians and flexitarians alike.

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  • Mushroom Fact
    FUN-GI FACT 9

    Mushrooms are a good source of B vitamins, including riboflavin, niacin, and pantothenic acid, which help to provide energy by breaking down proteins, fats and carbohydrates. B vitamins also play an important role in the nervous system.