Springy and chewy, with an earthy and very mildly pungent flavor; shiitake mushrooms are a versatile and interesting addition to your culinary endeavors.
Shiitake mushrooms are also known as black forest mushrooms or oakwood mushrooms and though they still grow wild, they are also one of the most widely cultivated mushrooms in the world. So, widely cultivated, in fact, that many of them no longer come from actual trees but are instead cultivated in sawdust, often with high amounts of pesticides and fungicides. This is one reason I tend to avoid conventionally cultivated fungi. However, if you can manage to get your hands on some naturally cultivated or wild, forest grown, then you are in for a real treat.
From a culinary perspective, shiitakes are desirable for a variety of reasons. First, they tend to be sturdier than their other fungi relatives and they can impart a variety of nuances to flavor depending on how they are preserved and prepared. Fresh shiitakes have a lighter, earthy, almost sweet/nutty flavor. In contrast, dehydrated or dried and reconstituted shiitakes can be almost smokey with a stronger muskier flavor. They are great additions to a wide variety of savory dishes; soups, stews, and stir-fries. They can be fried, steamed, baked, sautéed; my favorite way to eat them is thinly sliced and then sautéed in olive oil and garlic.
From a health perspective, mushrooms have long had a history of medicinal properties. Shiitake mushrooms are no different. They like their counterpart are high in a wide variety of nutrients, minerals and vitamins. Most notably, they are a great source of copper and also of vitamin D. Interestingly, mushrooms produce more vitamin D if they are exposed to the sun for a few hours with their gills facing upward. Research demonstrates that eating one gram of sun treated shiitake mushrooms provides the recommended daily dose of vitamin D. Studies also suggest the shiitake mushrooms contain other chemical components that inhibit tumor growth, cancer cell propagation, and systemic inflammation. They are restorative to the liver, with research showing beneficial results for people suffering from liver related ailments like hepatitis and fatty liver disease. Mushrooms, including shiitake, are widely used in Traditional Chinese and Indian medicine for a wide variety of ailments, from cardiovascular issues to suppressed immune function. It seems that research is also supporting many of the amazing properties found in the shiitake mushroom.