Shiitake mushrooms, also known as oak, golden, Chinese, or black forest mushrooms, are a delicious edible fungus which can be found widely distributed in the forests and grocery stores of the world. In addition to being found in the wild, shiitake mushrooms are also heavily cultivated for sale in both fresh and dried forms. The mushrooms are heavily used in Asian cuisine, and are also tasty when added to food from other nations as well.
The proper name for shiitake mushrooms is Lentinus edodes, and the brown mushrooms can grow up to one foot (30 centimeters) in diameter, although they are usually harvested at a size of three to six inches (8-15 centimeters). The cap has a slightly leathery, cracked texture, and the stem is chewy and largely inedible, although it can be used to add seasoning to soups, stews, and sauces. In the wild, shiitakes grow on the trunks of oak trees and other hardwoods in large colonies that will reappear year after year.
Shiitake mushrooms are also heavily cultivated in southeast Asia and the Americas. Many of the southern states have large shiitake farms which ship mushrooms all over the United States. Home consumers can also easily grow shiitake mushrooms using mushroom logs, which will produce mushrooms within a few weeks. Mushroom logs are obtainable from specialty suppliers and come with detailed instructions designed to help consumers produce a bumper crop of fresh, delicious mushrooms.
The flavor of the shiitake is savory, smoky, woody, and slightly meaty, accompanied by a rich scent. The mushrooms are often used in stir fries, sushi, soups, and pasta dishes, although the cook's imagination is the only limit. Fresh shiitake mushrooms can be obtained in many grocery stores and kept in a brown paper bag under refrigeration for up to two weeks. Dried mushrooms are also easy to obtain, and be used in the same way as fresh shiitakes after being rehydrated in warm water.
Scientific study has also determined that the shiitake may have health benefits as well. The mushrooms are high in fiber and antioxidants, and it has been suggested that they could be beneficial in a cancer preventing diet. Shiitake mushrooms are also high in iron and vitamin C, and supposedly help to boost the immune system. In addition, like many fresh fruits, vegetables, and fungi, the shiitake can also lower levels of bad cholesterol and promote heart health.