In the holistic approach of Japanese people to health and beauty the special attention has been always paid to powerful superfoods, which are renowned for their delicious, nutritional, and medicinal properties. Mushrooms are at the top of the list and demand outstrips supply.

Generally known for having one of the healthiest diets in the world, Japanese people consume about 15 g of various kinds of mushrooms per day, which accounts for 0.68% of their total food intake.

In the Japanese cuisine, mushrooms are a particularly common ingredient that has been used in cooking for millennia. Rich in antioxidants and many other goodies, mushrooms are natural anti-inflammatory agents that help protect body cells from accelerated ageing and premature death, balance skin pH and lipid levels.

Mushrooms – Japanese superfood

 

Mushrooms in the Japanese cuisine

Various mushrooms are used in the Japanese cuisine. Some of the most popular ones are shiitake, matsutake and enoki.

Shiitake

Shiitake are one the most popular mushrooms in Japanese cooking, and are also the most well-known “Japanese” mushroom outside of Japan.

Shiitake cultivation

In the south of the country, shiitake mushrooms are cultivated on oak trunks almost in every village. The technology is as follows: oak logs are harvested in autumn, they are dried under sheds in winter, holes are drilled in them in spring, into which fungal spores are laid. After a year and a half, the first harvest appears after which shiitake is harvested twice a year, in autumn and spring, for the next few years. Cold weather helps the shiitake to conserve nutrients. If there is frost or low humidity, the mushroom cap would crack and its fragrance would be intensified. That’s why a large, thick and rough mushroom is more prestigious.

The other way of growing shiitake is the use of wood shavings in a plastic bag, which is placed in the greenhouse. The benefits of this approach are the short growing time and large amount of output. But that can’t compete with the nutrients Japanese shiitake get from an intact piece of wood and the natural surroundings. And you can smell the difference.

Shiitake are now widely cultivated all over the world, and contribute about 25% of total yearly production of mushrooms.

Mushrooms – Japanese superfood

 

Miso soup

In Japan, fresh and dried shiitake mushrooms have many uses. They are served in miso soup, used as the basis for a kind of vegetarian dashi, and as an ingredient in many steamed and simmered dishes.

Dashi is a family of stocks (bone, seafood or vegetable broth) used in Japanese cuisine.

The most common dashi soup stocks for miso soup are made of niboshi (dried baby sardines), kombu (dried kelp), katsuobushi (thin shavings of dried and smoked bonito (similar to skipjack tuna)), or hoshi-shiitake (dried shiitake).

In Japan, miso soup and white rice make up the central dishes of the traditional Japanese breakfast. The soup has been a favourite of commoners and royalty alike for many centuries.

Matsutake

In Japan, matsutake mushroom is treated with a special respect because it is the true king – both in taste and price. The mushrooms are found under pine trees (matsu), and are most valuable when picked just before surfacing with the umbrella still closed.

Mushrooms – Japanese superfood

 

The samurai nature of matsutake

The nature of this mushroom is truly samurai: matsutake is the only Japanese mushroom that grows only in natural conditions. This delicacy with a fleshy stem and hat cannot be cultivated and is harvested only in early autumn in mountainous areas with acidic soils, mostly – in the western part of the Honshu Island. Finding at least a few mushrooms at once was considered a great luck.

Scientists struggling with the cultivation of matsutake say that whoever finds a solution to the problem is worthy of the Nobel Prize.

The food of emperors and shoguns

For centuries, matsutake has taken pride of being placed on the tables of emperors, shoguns, and nobles. The famous writers Yosa Buson and Kobayashi Issa, whose names are associated with the new flourishing of the haiku poetic genre, dedicated to it the heartfelt lines. “My young companions, hungry for prey, strove forward and forward, each strove to overtake the other, while I, far behind them, searched slowly, carefully examining every piece of land, and, in the end, found as many as five matsutake mushrooms, each one the size of with a small cane hat” (Yosa Buson).

Matsutake costs

Depending on the availability, shape and size, one local matsutake in Japan retails from 2,000 to 4,000 yen ($17-$35). For three mushrooms, you will have to pay up to 12 thousand yen (about $ 100). And per kilo – up to 70 thousand yen (about 620 dollars).

Mushrooms – Japanese superfood

 

Matsutake dobin mushi soup

Most often, matsutake is used not as a main dish but as a side dish. In traditional Japanese restaurants, a rice dish with diced chicken and matsutake is popular. Another popular dish is dobin mushi soup.

A “dobin” is a small Japanese teapot and “mushi” means to steam, so it is a soup steamed in a small teapot. It is a traditional Japanese seafood broth, steamed and served in a dobin tea pot with shrimp, chicken, fish fillet, soy sauce, lime, matsutake mushroom, and dried kelp. Kelp is large brown algae that live in cool, relatively shallow waters close to the shore. They grow in dense groupings much like a forest on land.

 

Mushrooms – Japanese superfood

 

Enoki

Having long and narrow stipes with undeveloped caps, enoki mushrooms are widely cultivated in Japan. They are highly nutritious: the mushrooms are packed with fiber, antioxidants, and B vitamins. They’ve also been associated with numerous health benefits and may help support heart health, brain function, immunity, and more.

Unlike other popular in Japan mushrooms, enoki mushrooms have a rather mild, slightly fruity taste. They have a crunchy texture that is often used in hot pot dishes. Most commonly, enoki mushrooms are used as a textural addition to hot pot soups, stews, or stir-fry dishes. They pair nicely with soba noodles and miso ramen bowls.

In a wok or medium skillet over medium-high heat, warm the oil. Add the garlic and cook, stirring frequently, for 1 to 2 minutes, until slightly golden. Add the mushrooms and toss to coat. Cook, stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes, until slightly wilted.

You don’t have to cook enoki mushrooms all the time because they can be eaten raw. Try, you might like them raw.

Fast food the Japanese way

The Japanese cuisine has always been very special. However, over the past 50-60 years, it has not escaped the impact of modern food trends. Various modifications of “fast food” such as hot dogs, instant soups, popcorn, chips, and hamburgers penetrate into the land of the rising sun. Even though connoisseurs of national traditions opposed this process, the Japanese couldn’t fence themselves off from low-nutrient and sometimes unhealthy fast food options. But still, every effort has been made to “Japanize” overseas food to some extent: burger with fried chicken and mushrooms, potato chips with seaweed seasonings, spaghetti with cod caviar familiar to the taste of the islanders, ice cream with the addition of green tea … And here one of the key positions is traditionally occupied by mushrooms being a staple ingredient in many traditional dishes.

 

So the next time you feel under-nourished and in need of healing, trust the mythical power of mushrooms.

 

Mushrooms – Japanese superfood

Mushrooms – Japanese superfood

Mushrooms – Japanese superfood

Mushrooms – Japanese superfood

Mushrooms – Japanese superfood

Mushrooms – Japanese superfood

 

 

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