Shiitake mushrooms are one of the most widely consumed fungi in the world. This guide to shiitake mushrooms has plenty of tips for buying, prepping, and using them fresh or dried, with links to recipes for ultimate enjoyment of a umami-rich food.
Dried shiitake mushrooms are a popular way for home cooks to embrace the craving, but there’s a whole spectrum of unique qualities that fresh shiitake have to offer.
What Are Shiitake Mushrooms and Where Did They Come From?
Native to east Asia, particularly China, Japan, Indonesia, and Taiwan, shiitake could be found growing wild well over one hundred million years ago based on fossil evidence.
Shiitake are happiest in damp, dark, and cool but not cold environments. That’s why they’re most frequently found in mountainous regions, sprouting from fallen logs.
Today, while foraging is enjoying a resurgence in popularity, most fresh shiitake on grocery store shelves are cultivated to keep up with demand. There are even shiitake-growing kits available to grow your own at home!
There are two primary types of shiitake mushrooms: Donko and koshin.
Donko shiitake mushrooms are most highly prized for their thick, closed caps but are smaller overall. The name itself comes from the Chinese word for “winter,” as they’re harvested primarily in the late winter and early spring.
Koshin shiitake mushrooms are the very same shiitake that are allowed to continue growing for a longer period. As a result, they have flatter but larger caps, and are named after the word for “fragrant.” Highly aromatic and more delicate in texture, these are harvested during fall.
How to Buy and Store Fresh Shiitake Mushrooms
High-quality shiitake mushrooms have broad, rich brown caps that should be free of dark spots or white fuzz, which are signs of age and decay.
Though they’re often sold in plastic-wrapped containers at supermarkets, it’s better to store them in paper bags in the fridge. They should keep for up to one week this way, but as with all mushrooms, it’s best to use them sooner than later.
Commercially cultivated shiitake mushrooms are typically grown in sawdust or rice bran, which makes them much cleaner than many other varieties. Regardless, you should still check for dirt or bugs, which can be removed with a dry brush.
Rinse with water only if you’re about to use them right away since this will speed up degradation otherwise.
If you’re also interested in dried shiitake, see:
Umami-Rich Recipes for Dried Shiitake Mushrooms
What’s The Difference Between Fresh and Dried Shiitake?
Aside from the obvious discrepancies in preparation, there’s a surprising difference in flavor between fresh and dried mushrooms.
Dried shiitake have an even more intense and pronounced umami quality than fresh. The drying process breaks down cell walls and concentrates natural umami compounds, allowing a greater range of flavors to come to the fore once rehydrated.
Dried shiitake are a better choice for making rich soup stocks and other long-simmered dishes. When it comes to replacing chewy, thick chunks of meat in stews and braises, dried is also ideal.
Fresh shiitake mushrooms are better suited for stir fries due to their more tender texture. They need only a flash in the pan to lightly caramelize the edges and take on a toothsome bite. Fresh shiitake are also ideal for topping pizzas since they don’t exude too much liquid and cook quickly.
How to Cook with Fresh Shiitake Mushrooms
Like any other fresh mushrooms, shiitake can be enjoyed whole, sliced, or chopped. Larger caps are great for stuffing and baking or roasting as appetizers, while smaller strips or chunks are ideal for weaving into other dishes.
Prepare your shiitake by first removing the stems. Contrary to popular belief, the stem is fully edible but more fibrous than the cap. It’s best used for long-simmering stocks and soups. Make sure to remove and discard (or compost) the very bottom which is especially hard. And altogether, if the fibrous, fuzzy stem doesn’t appeal to you, don’t use it at all.
You can replace any other common mushroom with shiitake for an extra flavor boost in all your favorite fungi recipes.
Fresh Shiitake Nutrition Notes
Shiitake, and most mushrooms in general, are widely regarded as potent superfoods. They were originally used for medicinal purposes long before they caught on as valuable culinary currency.
Particularly notable is the high level of antioxidants in every serving, which protects against cell damage, and boosts the immune system, helping to fight off illnesses and inflammation.
Additionally, shiitake mushrooms are rich in copper, selenium, and Vitamin D, among other essential vitamins and minerals. Low in calories and almost zero fat, they’re an excellent source of dietary fiber. Here’s a complete look at their nutritional content.
For more in addition to the sampling of recipes and ideas that follow:
25+ Recipes for Fresh Shiitake Mushrooms
Serving Suggestions and Recipes
Marinated or pickled: A touch of mild vinegar does wonders to wake up the earthy flavors locked within these spores. Use a hot brine of rice vinegar with a touch of salt and sugar to soak sliced shiitake for 1 to 3 hours before serving on top of rice, tacos, salads, and more. Here’s a recipe for pickled shiitakes that makes a good quantity.
Stir-fried or glazed: A few minutes in a hot wok with garlic, ginger, and sesame oil can do wonders for a simple side dish. Turn it into a full entrée by adding tofu, seitan, or tempeh, along with other vegetables such as bell peppers, baby corn, snap peas, and more. Here’s a simple recipe for a bok choy and shiitake stir fry.
Beefless ground: Where’s the beef? Check your produce bin! Once chopped finely, shiitake can make an amazingly meaty mixture that’s ideal for making burgers, meatloaf, Bolognese sauce, tacos, burritos, chili, lasagna, cabbage rolls, stuffed peppers, and more. Here’s a quick recipe for vegan ground starring this versatile mushroom.
Mushroom “Bacon”: Just about anything can be bacon if you put your mind to it! Thinly sliced shiitake are particularly well-suited for the job with their undeniably meatiness. Marinate them in a mixture of soy sauce, liquid smoke or BBQ spice, and a touch of maple syrup before baking, pan frying, or air frying until crispy. Here’s our take on how to make vegan mushroom “bacon.”
Soups and stews: Miso soup and ramen are the most traditional brothy brews you’ll find shiitake floating in, but they’re fantastic in any recipe that calls for fresh mushrooms. That includes mushroom barley soup, creamy vegan mushroom soup, and other soups.
Creamy pasta sauces: Mushroom stroganoff is the ultimate comfort food, bringing together al dente noodles with a creamy meat sauce. The added umami from shiitake brings the combination to the next level. Try the same in a simple marsala sauce, and hearty gnocchi.
Deep fried: Crispy battered shiitake mushrooms are an even more addictive snack than French Fries, and better for you, too. It would be a stretch to call the preparation “health food,” but at least you’re getting more vitamins and minerals along with a solid dose of comfort.
Contributed by Hannah Kaminsky: Hannah has developed an international following for her delicious recipes and mouthwatering food photography at the award-winning blog BitterSweet. Passionate about big flavors and simple techniques, she’s the author of Vegan Desserts, Vegan à la Mode, Easy as Vegan Pie, Real Food, Really Fast, Sweet Vegan Treats, The Student Vegan Cookbook, Super Vegan Scoops, and The Everyday Vegan Cheat Sheet Pan. Visit Hannah at BittersweetBlog.com.