Mushrooms and other flavor enhancers

Mushrooms are unique in the food realm because they do not fall into either the plant or animal kingdoms. Instead, they are one of many organisms in the kingdom of fungi. We usually think of the more colorful fruits and vegetables being indicators of good health, but even though they are less colorful, mushrooms bring their own unique nutrition and flavor contributions to the table.

There are over one thousand edible mushrooms of which about twenty are available commercially. Some common types include button, portabella, cremini, shiitake, porcini, oyster, chanterelle, enoki, beech, and royal trumpet.

As with plant foods, types of mushrooms vary somewhat in their nutritional content. The broad range of nutrients they contain may include copper, many of the B vitamins, magnesium, manganese, potassium, phosphorus, iron, zinc, and if exposed to UV light, vitamin D. They also contain soluble fiber in the form of beta glucan and small amounts of protein – all for almost no calories or carbohydrates.

These nutrients and the phytonutrients (flavonoids and others) they contain help to support a variety of body systems. Some can act as antioxidants, some may be anti-inflammatory. In combination with other healthy foods they can assist in reducing the risk of some medical concerns (like high blood pressure or elevated cholesterol).

Pam Stuppy

When it comes to their use in recipes, they impart a savory, meaty flavor. Their big claim to fame, however, is the glutamates they contain which provide what is considered the fifth flavor we can taste – umami [oo’mah’mee]. Umami does not have much flavor of its own, but instead, enhances the flavors of other foods. Research suggests the umami can almost double the flavor of some foods. Cooking mushrooms increases the extent of umami as compared to raw mushrooms (grilling, roasting, baking, broiling, sautéing).