, and some of these also appear to have medicinal qualities.
In recent years exotic mushroom varieties have become gourmet favorites in the U.S. and as a result, they are showing up more and more often now in grocery stores. This is good news for IC patients looking to add flavor variety in their diet without upsetting their sensitive bladder. Many of us can eat mushrooms without experiencing bladder problems so they are well worth a try.
Edible mushroom varieties all share a similar nutritional profile in that they are fat-free, cholesterol-free, low in calories, and also naturally low in sodium. Though not a nutritional star vitamin-wise, they do have a notable quality: they contain quite a bit of the trace mineral, copper. There isn’t a Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for copper, but around half a cup of cooked mushrooms gives an adult about 12% to 25% of what is considered an adequate and safe intake. (Copper, though a minor player nutritionally, is a necessary part of the hemoglobin which carries oxygen to body tissues. It is also involved in the cellular production of energy).
Probably the most famous Asian mushroom here in the U.S. is the shiitake. An umbrella-shaped brown mushroom with a creamy stalk and gills, it has been intensely studied in Japan for its supposed health-giving qualities. Because some mushrooms may produce cancer-fighting compounds, the Japanese have invested millions of research dollars to study edible fungi. So far the shiitake mushroom has, in limited studies, been found to stimulate cell-mediated immunity.
This isn’t news to the Chinese, who have used the shiitake medicinally since the Middle Ages. In China, shiitake mushrooms are believed to improve blood circulation and inhibit premature aging among other things. Here in the US, you may just as easily find shiitakes in egg foo yung recipes as you’ll find them served over pasta. Shiitakes have become popular with gourmet chefs and regularly show up on menus at upscale restaurants. They may also be called “forest mushrooms” or “golden oak mushrooms”. Although you can find fresh shiitakes in the produce section, you may also find them dried and sealed in plastic bags. If you get them dried, they should be soaked in warm water about two hours before using them for cooking.
Shiitakes are plentiful in the markets in the spring so now is a good time to look for them at a reasonable price. Shiitakes have a woodsy almost smoky flavor and a dense, meaty texture. Try this delicious recipe for creamed shiitake mushrooms as a sauce over grilled or oven-baked chicken breasts.
Creamed Shiitake Mushrooms
– serves 4
- 1/2 cup low-sulfite dry white wine
- 1-1/2 cups low sodium chicken broth (see important note below)
- 10 3-inch fresh shiitake mushrooms (or about 8 oz. of smaller ones)
- 2-1/2 Tbsp. margarine, divided
- 5 Tbsp. flour
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 1/4 cup milk
- 1/2 teaspoon onion salt
- 2 teaspoons dried chives
- 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary, crumbled
- salt to taste
- Combine wine and broth in a saucepan and boil for 15 minutes or so until reduced in volume by half (alcohol will be boiled off). Meanwhile, rinse the mushrooms, pat dry and remove the stems. Chop coarsely just the tender caps, discarding the tougher stems. In another small saucepan, melt 1 tablespoon of the margarine. Stir in the flour until evenly distributed. Add the cream and milk and warm until all ingredients are well blended. Stir in the reduced broth, onion salt and dried chives. Set aside for the moment.
- In a skillet over medium heat, cook the chopped mushrooms and rosemary in 1-1/2 tablespoons of margarine until the mushrooms are slightly browned and soft. Add the mushrooms to the cream mixture and heat until the sauce is warmed through and thickened, but do not allow to boil. Season with salt to taste. This sauce is works well over served over rice, potatoes or cooked green beans too.
Notes: The chicken broth you use is important. Most have monosodium glutamate– a bladder pain inducer. Here are two nationally available brands that are low sodium and MSG-free: Campbell’s Healthy Request Chicken Broth, Health Valley No-Salt Added Chicken Broth.
Enoki (also called enokitake) mushrooms are another Asian favorite now appearing in many grocery stores. You may find them marketed as “snow puff” mushrooms or “velvet stem” mushrooms. Pale and thin, the cultivated version of this mushroom sports long spaghetti-like stalks topped with tiny white caps shaped like thimbles. They have a crunchy texture and a taste that is slightly reminiscent of fruit. The flavor is milder than that of many mushrooms. For this reason they are a great way to add interest to a dressing-free salad that you’ve simply moistened and sprinkled with dried or fresh herbs. If you purchase enokis fresh at the store, be sure to cut off the mass at the base of the stems. Then simply rinse, pat dry on paper towels and use. (One warning: enokis aren’t good for cooking because they become rubbery and tough. But they do look attractive as a garnish on top of hot vegetable dishes like carrot soup- just put them on top of the soup right before serving so the heat of the soup doesn’t have a chance
to cook them).
Common Cultivated Mushrooms
When shopping for the familiar cultivated white or brown mushrooms look for those with a tight cap, having none of the gills on the underside showing. If the caps are open and the gills showing, they are getting old and the flavor is declining. Avoid ones with dark or soft spots too– they will soon be spoiled. Cultivated mushrooms are most plentiful during fall and winter months so that’s when the prices are lowest, but you can usually find them in stores year-round. These mild mushrooms make a tasty quick-fix garnish for meats: Just slice and saute with butter and garlic, then spoon the mushrooms and any juices over the meat. They are great when thrown into an omelet for breakfast too. Pita bread makes a quick lunch when stuffed with sliced mushrooms, alfalfa sprouts, and grilled chicken or turkey breast slices.
Cremino (or cremini) mushrooms are the same species as the common cultivated mushroom but they are a slightly darker and firmer variety. Sometimes they are sold when their size is a bit larger and they have a more intense woodsy flavor. You might see this brown variety marketed as “Brown Mushrooms” or “Roman Mushrooms”. If you think they look suspiciously like small portobello mushrooms you would be right. Portobellos (sometimes called portobellas) are merely large-size, fully mature creminos. As the creminos mature and grow larger, the cap opens out to become flattened and the gills then show. Portobellos are usually about four to six inches in diameter. Because they are fully open, they dry out quickly so be sure to use them right away. Portobellos make a dramatic looking dish when cooked and served whole. Here is one of my favorite recipes for portobellos.
Stuffed Portobello Mushroom
– serves 2
- 2 large portobello mushrooms
- 2 Tbsp. margarine
- 14 large spinach leaves, sliced in 1/4-inch strips
- 1 tsp. dried oregano
- 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh chives, (optional)
- 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
- 1/2 cup soft bread crumbs (crustless french bread works well)
- 2 large eggs, slightly beaten
- 2 Tbsp. low-fat milk
- 1 Tbsp. flour
- 3/4 cup shredded lowfat mozzarella cheese
- 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
- 1/8 tsp. onion salt (optional)
- 1/4 tsp. black pepper (optional)
- Clean the mushrooms and remove the stems. Chop the stems in 1/2-inch chunks and set aside. With a spoon, scrape out the brown gills of each mushroom. Dry prepared mushroom tops if they are wet and set aside. Heat a large skillet over medium heat and melt 1 Tbsp. of the margarine. Add the chopped mushroom stems. Stir and saute stems about one minute. Add spinach, oregano, chives and nutmeg. Cook until stems are brown, spinach is limp and chives are dark green and soft. Stir occasionally while cooking. This will take about 10 minutes. Add the other tablespoon of margarine and breadcrumbs and cook another 3 minutes. Set aside to cool while you prepare the remaining ingredients.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In a medium bowl whisk the eggs and milk together. Add flour and whisk until well blended. Stir in the mozzarella, feta, onion salt and pepper (if desired). (For entertaining, the filling can be made to this point a day ahead. Refrigerate and store egg mixture, spinach mixture, and mushroom caps separately.) Stir the spinach/breadcrumb mixture into the egg and cheese mixture. Arrange mushroom caps on a large rimmed baking sheet. Scoop filling into the centers, filling cavities. Bake at 375 degrees F. until mushrooms are tender and filling is set, about 20 minutes. Let cool 3 minutes before serving.
Notes: Many people with IC who can’t tolerate raw onions can tolerate cooked ones. And many who can’t tolerate cooked onions can tolerate small amounts of cooked chives. Watch what kind of bread you use too if your bladder is very sensitive to preservatives and dough conditioners. French bread from the deli often has less of these substances. This recipe is fairly high in oxalates due to the spinach and black pepper, so approach it carefully if you need a low-oxalate diet for vulvodynia.
- Mushroom Council, Dublin, California. January, 2001.
- Roberta Duyff, M.S., R.D., C.F.C.S.; The American Dietetic Association’s Complete Food and Nutrition Guide; Chronimed Publishing; 1998.