Shiitake Happens

health benefits of shiitake

Friends of mine held an impromptu backyard BBQ last weekend, so I thought I would stop by while I was out running errands.  There’s something about BBQs that I can’t resist.  Knowing that she’s vegan, naturally I expected the usual fanfare of veggie platters, and of course, veggie burgers. Not this time.

At first bite I knew this wasn’t an ordinary “veggie burger.”  The texture was more beefy, but it tasted/smelled more like a tree than beef.  So I thought I would give it one more try.  Wow.  This was the worst tasting veggie burger I’ve ever had. And for reasons unknown to me, people were actually RAVING about how delicious the burgers were.  Delicious?  Is there an alternative burger on the grill that I wasn’t aware of?   It wasn’t until someone noticed that I was not finishing mine and asked; “Don’t you like shiitake?”  Oohhh… so THAT’S what this thing is — a mushroom!  And here I thought it was just a veggie burger gone seriously wrong.

One would think that with thousands of species of edible mushrooms on this planet that there would be at least ONE that I liked.  Truth is: I hate mushrooms!  It doesn’t matter how they’re cooked, or not cooked, there’s not one single thing I like about mushrooms.  Not the taste, not the aroma, and certainly not the texture.  Since I’m the only one in my entire family with this disdain for mushrooms, I’m quite sure it’s not from lack of trying them. So there I was trying not to offend the cook by eating at least some of this mushroom.    Of course, once I said that I wasn’t a huge fan of mushrooms (no matter how it’s disguised) I was immediately told how healthy shiitakes are for me.  Obviously, “eating healthy” was not on my mind when I showed up at that BBQ.  So I decided to do a little research on my own to see just how healthy shitakes really are.

Aside from the high levels of protein (18%), potassium, niacin and B vitamins, calcium, magnesium and phosphorus found in shiitake mushrooms, they also contain several anticancer substances including lentinan (which has been studied in Japan as a treatment for stomach and colorectal cancer after surgery).

Lentinan, an immunostimulant derived from shiitakes, has been used to treat cancer, AIDS, diabetes, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibrocystic breast disease, and other conditions with impressive results.

Treatment with lentinan is reported to help prolong the life of patients with stomach cancer. For cancer treatments, Lentinan is usually given by injection, which is more easily absorbed by the body than the actual food source. Other substances in shiitake mushroom that are more easily used by the body from food have shown anticancer activity in animal tests.

Until now, I had no idea that shiitake mushrooms are one of the healthiest foods on the planet. Scientists have now proven that shiitake mushrooms offer antiviral, cholesterol-lowering and cardiovascular support, and properties in just the right amounts to augment the immune system.

Maybe if I smother them in garlic, then chop them up into micro pieces, say about the size of an ant’s foot, then perhaps I can obscure them in some recipe that further hides the taste, aroma, and texture of a mushroom.  There are just too many health benefits from this particular food to totally ignore it.

For additional information about shiitake mushrooms, and probably more than you will ever want or need to know, read this page from World’s Healthiest Foods.

You can also grow your own shiitake, which is very easy to do.


A high-dose Shiitake mushroom increases hepatic accumulation of triacylglycerol in rats fed a high-fat diet: underlying mechanism. Handayani D, Meyer BJ, Chen J, Brown SH, Mitchell TW, Huang XF.

Recent progress of research on medicinal mushrooms, foods, and other herbal products used in traditional Chinese medicine. Lee KH, Morris-Natschke SL, Yang X, Huang R, Zhou T, Wu SF, Shi Q, Itokawa H.

Sacks H, Sun Farm Corporation: Phase III Randomized Study of a Dietary Supplement Comprising Selected Vegetables-Sun’s Soup in Patients With Stage IIIB or IV Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Undergoing Treatment With Best Supportive Care, SFC-SV002, Clinical trial, Approved-not yet active.

S. C. Jong and J. M. Birmingham. “Nutritional Value of the Shiitake Mushroom”, Proceedings of the National Shiitake Mushroom Symposium, Huntington Alabama, November 1-3, 1993.