All About Black Mushroom or Shiitake Mushrooms

Shiitake mushrooms on a wooden table

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Shiitake mushrooms are also called black mushrooms, which is a bit of a misnomer since the mushrooms can be light or dark brown, and even gray when dried. They are frequently speckled. The mushrooms are also known as Chinese mushrooms, flower mushrooms, forest mushroom, oak mushroom, and pasania fungus. They are sold fresh but are popularly purchased dried

The mushrooms have been utilized for their health benefits in traditional Asian healing systems for centuries. Shiitake, when translated from Japanese, refers to the shii tree on which these mushrooms originally grew, while také means mushroom.

Nutritional Facts

A 3.5 ounce serving of raw black mushrooms provides you with 3 grams of fiber, 7 grams of carbohydrates, 35 calories, and 2.2 grams of complete protein. Black mushrooms contain 18 amino acids, iron, niacin, and B vitamins. Niacin can help break down food for digestion and can be critical for nervous system function. Iron can help the body form red blood cells. B vitamins usually benefit the immune system’s ability to attack toxins, viruses, and harmful bacteria, and they can assist the body in metabolizing food.

Potential Health Benefits

The 5,000-year-old traditional Chinese medicinal system uses black mushrooms for high cholesterol, atherosclerosis, and as a tonic to benefit your overall health. Traditional Japanese medicine employs black mushrooms to treat parasites, circulatory disorders, heart conditions, and exhaustion.

Fresh Black Mushrooms

In Chinese, the generic term for this type of fungus is xiāng gū, which translates as "fragrant mushroom." This broad group, however, is subdivided further according to quality and you will also find them sold as either dōng gū, or "winter mushroom," and huā gū, meaning "flower mushroom."

Very generally speaking, any Chinese black mushroom can qualify as a fragrant mushroom, while winter mushrooms (supposedly better in the colder months) are regarded as higher quality, and flower mushrooms are considered the best of the lot.

Appearance-wise, fragrant mushrooms are exceptionally thin, with a little curl at the edges, cheap, and are usually not high quality. Winter mushrooms are thicker and meatier. Flower mushrooms have a thick cap, and a nice curl with a characteristic cracked surface pattern.

Dried Black Mushrooms

While fresh black mushrooms may be available, dried mushrooms are preferred for use in Asian recipes, as the drying process gives them a stronger flavor. At home, you can store the dried mushrooms in a container at room temperature. They will last indefinitely. 

Dried mushrooms need to be reconstituted before use, and many cooks find that simply soaking them for an hour or so in very hot water is sufficient. A few cooks, however, insist that the only proper way to soak them is in cold water overnight to produce the best results. Consider using a weight of some sort, perhaps a small plate, to keep the mushrooms submerged, or they will stubbornly remain afloat. As they soak, the aroma will become noticeably stronger. Strain the mushrooms through a sieve to remove any sand or dirt. Reserve the soaking liquid for broth, along with the mushrooms stems.