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Add Health & Flavor to Your Diet with Eight Tasty Mushrooms

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The humble mushroom may not look like a super food, but it works hard at making food tasty and delivering a nutritional boost. For foodies, mushrooms add umami — the savory fifth flavor that compliments the four basic flavors of salty, sweet, sour and bitter. For those who are looking to eat an overall healthy diet, mushrooms are an excellent source of protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals. They are also low in calories and fat.

“Mushrooms are a multi-talented food. They are versatile and can be incorporated into a variety of dishes, bring a lot of flavor and are also incredibly healthy,” said Bonnie Buckingham, a registered dietitian at Samaritan Weight Management Institute.

According to Buckingham, the high antioxidant activity in mushrooms means it has lots of positive implications for your health. Early research suggests that mushrooms may be helpful for fighting cancer, increasing immunity, decreasing inflammation and preventing neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Mushrooms are easy to add to vegetable dishes or use them as a replacement if you are looking to cut back on meat.

Choosing Mushrooms

Mushrooms are plentiful in Oregon, especially this time of year when they are in season. Popular varieties are available in the produce section of the grocery store year-round. Specialty grocers and farmers markets are a good place to find a wider selection of mushrooms in the spring and fall.

Dried mushrooms have many of the same health benefits as fresh mushrooms, according to Buckingham, so use these freely if they are more readily available.

When selecting mushrooms, choose smooth, firm, unblemished specimens. Pass over any that look limp, dry or have slimy spots.

To prepare for cooking, use a mushroom brush to remove surface dirt or rinse under cool water and pat dry. Trim the stem ends if you will be serving with the stem on.

Common Varieties of Mushrooms

See images below and learn to recognize these tasty mushroom varieties!

Button

With a mild flavor, button mushrooms are a good place to start if you’re just trying mushrooms with your meals. These are easy to find at the grocery store.

Try sautéing sliced button mushrooms with a little olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper to top a baked potato.

Cremini 

Another common grocery store variety with an earthy flavor, these are good for sautéing or in soups and sauces. Try adding a handful of sliced, sautéed cremini mushrooms to a spinach salad.

Portobello 

A rich, meaty mushroom with a sturdy composition. The portobello can be grilled whole like a burger, stuffed or sliced. It is easily found in stores.

The top skin of the portobello can be difficult to bite through, so consider removing it if you will be serving the mushrooms whole. Simply grab the edge of the cap and peel a strip of the top layer away, working your way around the whole cap. You can also scrape off the gills with a spoon if you prefer a smooth appearance.

Try marinating a portobello in olive oil, balsamic vinegar, thyme, garlic, salt and pepper. Grill for about 10 minutes. Add lettuce and tomato for a delicious hot sandwich, or cheese and onion on a bun for a tasty burger substitute. 

Shiitake 

With a woodsy, smoky flavor, shiitake mushrooms are good in stir-fry or soups. The stem is tough, so discard before cooking. It can be found in some stores and farmers markets.

The shiitake mushroom is not picky about cooking technique, so you don’t have to worry about overcooking them.

Oyster 

Oyster mushrooms have a lightly sweet or fruity flavor. Choose large specimens for the most pronounced taste. Try adding to a light cream sauce in the last few minutes of cooking and tossing with pasta. It can be found in some stores and farmers markets.

Porcini (King Bolete)

With a woodsy flavor, try adding porcini to lasagna or risotto. Porcini can be found at farmers markets and wild in Oregon.

Chanterelle 

Popular for Oregon foragers and at farmers markets, chanterelles have a fruity or nutty flavor. Try chanterelles in a butter sauce with pasta.

Morel 

As a spring-season mushroom that can be found in the wild in Oregon and at farmers markets, morels have a rich, nutty, earthy flavor. Try sautéing with olive oil as a topping for grilled chicken.

Matsutake (pine mushrooms) 

Matsutakes can be found in Oregon but picking limits may be in place and a permit may be required. With a pine or woodsy flavor, try cooking rice with diced matsutakes.

Mushroom Foraging

If you enjoy the thrill of the hunt, mushroom foraging is a popular activity in the Willamette Valley and along the central Oregon Coast. Many mushrooms are poisonous and can look similar to culinary varieties, so go with an experienced guide at first.

Look for mushroom foraging and identification classes at local nurseries or mycological clubs. You may also find foraging groups on Facebook. Mushroom festivals are held every year in Yachats and Salem and are a good place to learn more about mushrooms and connect with other enthusiasts.

Chanterelle mushrooms are unique looking and a common starter mushroom for new foragers. Porcinis are another favorite. Both are found in the conifer forests of the Cascades and Coast Range. Forest service roads offer easy access and can be a good place to start.

If you are picking on public land, check whether you need a permit to forage or if there are limits to how many mushrooms you can take. The Bureau of Land Management, Oregon State Parks and National Forest areas like Siuslaw and Willamette all have different requirements, so check before you go. If you are picking on private land, be sure to obtain permission first.

Eating the wrong mushrooms can be poisonous and even fatal, so be sure wild mushrooms have been positively identified before you eat them.

“Mushrooms are a great tasty, plant-based food to add to your diet,” said Buckingham. “If not from the store, though, be sure you know what you are cooking up to avoid a trip to the emergency room.” 

Try these tasty mushroom recipes: Garlic Mushroom Quinoa and Mushroom Spinach Salad.