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Everything You Need To Know About Shiitake Mushrooms

September 9, 2023

Depending on your culinary background, shiitake mushrooms may seem either exotic or mundane. For some chefs, shiitakes might be just another mushroom, easily swapped for crimini or porcini mushrooms, depending on what’s available. To others, they may seem like a strange and even intimidating ingredient, something to be avoided in the grocery store in favor of simpler white button mushrooms.

The truth is, wherever you currently fall on the spectrum, there really is a lot to shiitakes. It’s not just their ubiquity, nutritional value, or versatility in recipes that you should be aware of. Fundamentally, shiitakes are almost a cooking staple and really are one of those foods that every chef should have a firm handle on. Learning more about this mushroom may allow you to diversify your culinary habits, try exciting new recipes, and, potentially, help guide you to even more exotic and delicious foods.

With that in mind, we put together everything you need to know about shiitake mushrooms.

Shiitakes are often associated with Japanese and other East Asian cuisines, and for good reason: Shiitakes are native to East Asia, and can actually still be found growing wild in China, Japan, and other parts of the continent. In fact, their cultivation by humans dates back centuries: According to Clark University, Chinese growers first began domesticating shiitakes between 1000 and 1100 A.D.

Not surprisingly, the mushroom is known by a few names in China and Japan. The Mycological Society of San Francisco writes that it is known as dongo and shanku in China, while in Chinese restaurants in the United States, it is sometimes called “the black forest mushroom.” Even though they are the same type of mushroom, the meatier and smaller shiitakes are called donko in Japan. The larger variety that matures until spring is called koshin.

Whatever you call them, it is undeniably impressive (and a testament to the quality) that this mushroom has been so popular for roughly a millennium — including, and increasingly, in the West.

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