The World's Healthiest Foods
Mushrooms, Shiitake

Long a symbol of longevity in Asia because of their health-promoting properties, shiitake mushrooms have been used medicinally by the Chinese for more than 6,000 years. More recently, their rich, smoky flavor has endeared them to American taste buds and these exotic hearty mushrooms can now be found in supermarket shelves across the U.S. throughout the year.

Like other mushrooms, these specialty mushrooms are as mysteriously unique as they are delicious. While often thought of as a vegetable and prepared like one, mushrooms are actually a fungus, a special type of living organism that has no roots, leaves, flowers or seeds.


Health Benefits

A symbol of longevity in Asia because of their health-promoting properties, Shiitake mushrooms have been used medicinally by the Chinese for more than 6,000 years. Now that their rich, smoky flavor has endeared them to American tastebuds, these exotic hearty mushrooms can be found in supermarket shelves across the U.S.

Invigorate Your Immune System

Recent studies have traced shiitakes' legendary benefits to an active compound contained in these mushrooms called lentinan. Among lentinan's healing benefits is an ability to power up the immune system, strengthening its ability to fight infection and disease. Against influenza and other viruses, lentinan has been shown to be even more effective than prescription drugs; it even improves the immune status of individuals infected with HIV, the virus that can cause AIDS.

Cancer Protection

Lentinan, which is technically classified as a polysaccharide and referred to as a branched beta-glucan, has also been shown to have anti-cancer activity. When lentinan was given for human gastric cancer, reticular fibers developed in tumor sites. Reticular cells, which are spread throughout the body in various tissues, are immune cells that have the ability to ingest (phagocytose) bacteria, particulate matter, and worn out or cancerous cells. When lentinan was administered, not only was there a proliferation of reticular cells in gastric tumor sites, but many T lymphocytes (another type of immune defender) were drawn to these cancer sites with the result that the cancer cell nests were fragmented and destroyed.

A Hearty Mushroom That's Good for Your Heart

A large number of animal studies conducted over the last ten years have shown that another active component in shiitake mushrooms called eritadenine lowers cholesterol levels--and this amazing compound lowers cholesterol no matter what types of dietary fats the lab animals are given. Even when lab rats are given dietary protein rich in methionine (an amino acid researchers have found causes an increase in cholesterol formation), eritadenine still lowers plasma cholesterol levels in a dose-dependent manner. In other words, the more eritadenine given, the more cholesterol levels drop.


Although numerous types of mushrooms provide wonderful tastes, textures and healthful properties, three mushroom superstars have been recently receiving widespread attention and, as a result, are increasingly available in the marketplace. These top three are shiitake, maitake and reishi mushrooms.

Like other mushrooms, these specialty mushrooms are as mysteriously unique as they are delicious. While often thought of as a vegetable and prepared like one, mushrooms are actually fungi, a special type of living organism that has no roots, leaves, flowers or seeds.

All three specialty mushroom varieties are similar in that they can add both a delicious culinary, as well as therapeutic, spark to many recipes, but each also features distinct characteristics.

-Shiitake mushrooms (Lentinus edodes): Fleshy brown, slightly convex caps that range in diameter from about two to four inches in diameter.

-Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum): Usually have an antler or rounded fan shape with the most popular type of reishi being red in color, although that is just one of the six colors in which they grow.

-Maitake (Grifola frondosa): Grow in a formation of clustered brownish fronds of fan shaped petals. Commonly known as “Hen of the Woods”.


Shiitake, reishi and maitake mushrooms have grown wild since prehistoric times. Their therapeutic value has been prized in Asian countries, where they originated, for thousands of years. They play a critical role in Asian medicinal traditions and were noted in some of the first books on herbal medicine written thousands of years ago. In the past few decades, these mushrooms have become more popular in the United States as a result of an expanding body of scientific research supporting their numerous health benefits. In addition to China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan, these mushrooms are currently cultivated in a host of other countries including the United States.

How to Select and Store

How to Enjoy

For some of our favorite recipes, click Recipes.

Tips for Preparing Shiitake Mushrooms:

Mushrooms are very porous, so if they are exposed to too much water they will quickly absorb it and become soggy. Therefore, the best way to clean mushrooms without sacrificing their texture and taste is to clean them using minimal, if any, water. To do this, simply wipe them with a slightly damp paper towel or kitchen cloth. You could also use a mushroom brush, available at most kitchenware stores.

If the fresh mushrooms become dried out because of being stored for too long, soak them in water for thirty minutes.

A Few Quick Serving Ideas:

Shiitake mushrooms are traditionally added to miso soup.

Healthy sauté mushrooms with onions and garlic. Serve as a side dish or as a topping for chicken, beef, lamb or venison.

To give your vegetable stock an extra depth, add dried specialty mushrooms like shiitake.

For a quick and easy Asian pasta dish, healthy sauté shiitake mushrooms with snap peas and tofu. Season to taste and serve over buckwheat soba noodles (or your favorite type of pasta).


Shiitake Mushrooms and Purines

Shiitake mushrooms contain naturally-occurring substances called purines. Purines are commonly found in plants, animals, and humans. In some individuals who are susceptible to purine-related problems, excessive intake of these substances can cause health problems. Since purines can be broken down to form uric acid, excess accumulation of purines in the body can lead to excess accumulation of uric acid. The health condition called “gout” and the formation of kidney stones from uric acid are two examples of uric acid-related problems that can be related to excessive intake of purine-containing foods. For this reason, individuals with kidney problems or gout may want to limit or avoid intake of purine-containing foods such as shiitake mushrooms.

Nutritional Profile

Introduction to Food Rating System Chart

The following chart shows the nutrients for which this food is either an excellent, very good or good source. Next to the nutrient name you will find the following information: the amount of the nutrient that is included in the noted serving of this food; the %Daily Value (DV) that that amount represents (similar to other information presented in the website, this DV is calculated for 25-50 year old healthy woman); the nutrient density rating; and, the food's World's Healthiest Foods Rating. Underneath the chart is a table that summarizes how the ratings were devised. For more detailed information on our Food and Recipe Rating System, please click here.


Mushrooms, Shiitake, Raw
8.00 oz-wt
87.23 calories
Nutrient Amount DV
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
iron 3.59 mg 19.9 4.1 very good
vitamin C 5.98 mg 10.0 2.1 good
protein 4.98 g 10.0 2.1 good
dietary fiber 2.49 g 10.0 2.1 good
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
excellent DV>=75% OR Density>=7.6 AND DV>=10%
very good DV>=50% OR Density>=3.4 AND DV>=5%
good DV>=25% OR Density>=1.5 AND DV>=2.5%


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This page was updated on: 2005-05-06 21:00:44
© 2002 The George Mateljan Foundation