In the past year or so, much has been made of the benefit of consuming mushrooms, from the immune and brain boosting properties of medicinal mushrooms, to the therapeutic potential of psychedelic mushrooms in treating depression, addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to name a few.
Yet the general public’s most common introduction and frequent interaction with mushrooms still comes during mealtime. As a result, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the amazing benefit of simply adding edible mushrooms like Oysters, Shiitake, even the common button mushroom — agaricus bisporus — to your regular diet.
But what about a non-regular diet, like, say, veganism?
A typical reply to the question “Do you like mushrooms?” is “I don’t like the taste”, “They are kind of bland”, or “I want to but I don’t like the smell.”
Yet the mushroom most people think of when asked this question is the button mushroom, also commonly labeled as cremini mushrooms in grocery stores. And to be honest, that mushroom is one the worst spokespersons gourmet mushrooms could have ever asked for.
Perhaps, if instead of button mushrooms lining the grocery store shelves, we had Oysters, Shiitake, Lion’s Mane, or wild foraged finds like morels and chanterelles available, people would be singing a different tune.
That’s because each of these mushrooms has their own unique smells, textures, and tastes ranging from fruity — fresh Chanterelles can smell like apricots — to truffle-like and nutty — e.g. Morel mushrooms — which are highly sought for a reason.
Mushrooms’ deliciousness can in part be attributed to the fact that they offer the richest non-animal source of umami (one of the five basic tastes alongside sweet, sour, salty, and bitter) on the market.
Shrooms as Superfood
For many vegans, providing such a rich umami flavor is enough convincing. Yet the benefit of eating gourmet mushrooms as part of a vegan diet extends far beyond taste.
Mushrooms are extremely nutritious, with high concentrations of Vitamin C, Vitamin B1, B2, B3, B5, B9 (thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, and folic acid, respectively), and cyanocobalamin, a precursor to Vitamin B12. Mushrooms also contain selenium, which works with Vitamin E to combat free radicals by producing antioxidants, and high levels of bioavailable minerals that can be easily absorbed into your body without any special preparation (other than cooking them, of course!)
Mushrooms are healthy on a macronutrient level too, being naturally low in fat (0.6 to 3.1% by weight when fresh, 70% of that unsaturated fat), high in protein (~ 4% by weight when fresh, 19 to 35% protein when dried), and containing all nine essential amino acids.
Medicine: It’s What’s for Dinner
Certain gourmet mushrooms like Oysters, Shiitake, Maitake, and Lion’s Mane blur the line between edible and medicinal, as each possess powerful medicinal compounds that can help alleviate or reduce the risk for inflammation, obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, Dementia, and HIV, among a nearly innumerable list of other health benefits.
And for the ecologically-inclined vegan, mushrooms also claim top billing as one of the most sustainably produced foods in the United States.
“Mushrooms can now definitively be considered one of the most sustainably produced foods in the United States,” reads a study by Sure Harvest, a sustainability analysis and research firm that analyzed the practices of 21 facilities responsible for one-third of fresh mushroom production in the U.S.
So, are mushrooms good for vegans?
Perhaps a better question is, who aren’t mushrooms good for?
Radical Mycology, Peter McCoy