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Mushrooms can be found in so many dishes, from omelets to stir-fries, that they're often overlooked. But mushrooms not only are versatile, they also provide a variety of health benefits ranging from brain health to cancer prevention. They're naturally low in sodium and fat, two things that can affect heart health by raising blood pressure.
The mushroom you may be most familiar with is the common button mushroom. But there are thousands of mushroom varieties in various shapes, sizes and colors. Mushrooms grow in the wild, but safe varieties may be hard to identify, so it's best to stick to the farm-grown varieties found at your supermarket.
Taste and texture vary from one type of mushroom to the next. Button or cremini mushrooms are milder in flavor and have a softer texture than shiitake mushrooms, which are chewier and have an earthier flavor. While canned and fresh mushrooms have health benefits, fresh mushrooms have a different texture.
One distinctive characteristic of mushrooms is they provide umami to dishes. Umami often is considered the fifth basic taste, along with sweet, sour, salty and bitter. This brothy, savory taste makes it a good meat alternative. Try replacing one-quarter to one-half of the meat in a recipe with chopped mushrooms. Add mushrooms to dishes across a world of cuisines, including soups, salads, casseroles and pastas.
Before using them raw or prepping to cook, clean mushrooms under gently running water to rinse away any dirt, or brush with a damp paper towel.
If you need a little inspiration as you explore the health benefits and versatility of mushrooms, give these recipes from Mayo Clinic a try.
Kjersten Nett is a dietitian in Nutrition in Albert Lea and Austin, Minnesota.
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