The shiitake (Lentinula edodes) is an edible mushroom native to East Asia. It is generally known in the English-speaking world by its Japanese name, shiitake (kanji: 椎茸; lit. "shii mushroom", from the Japanese name of the tree that provides the dead logs on which it is typically cultivated).
In Chinese, it is called xiānggū (香菇, lit. "fragrant mushroom"). Two Chinese variant names for high grades of shiitake are dōnggū (Chinese: 冬菇, "winter mushroom") and huāgū (花菇, "flower mushroom", which has a flower-like cracking pattern on the mushroom's upper surface); both are produced at colder temperatures. Other names by which the mushroom is known in English include Chinese black mushroom and black forest mushroom. In Korean it is called pyogo (hangul: 표고; hanja: 瓢菰), in Thai they are called hed hom (เห็ดหอม, "fragrant mushroom"), and in Vietnamese they are called nấm hương ("fragrant mushroom").
The species was formerly known as Lentinus edodes and Agaricus edodes. The latter name was first applied by the English botanist Miles Joseph Berkeley in 1878.
History of cultivation
Shiitake are native to China but have been grown in both Japan and China since prehistoric times. They have been cultivated for over 1000 years; the first written record of shiitake cultivation can be traced to Wu Sang Kwuang, born during the Song Dynasty (960-1127 A.D.). However, some documents record the uncultivated mushroom being eaten as early as 199 A.D.
During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 A.D.), physician Wu Juei wrote that the mushroom could be used not only as a food but was taken as a remedy for upper respiratory diseases, poor blood circulation, liver trouble, exhaustion and weakness, and to boost qi, or life energy. It was also believed to prevent premature aging.
Before 1982 the Japanese variety of these mushooms could only be grown in traditional locations using ancient methods. In the late '70s, Gary F. Leatham published a doctoral thesis based on his research on the budding and growth of the Japan Islands variety; the work helped make commercial cultivation possible world-wide, and Dr. Leatham is now known in the industry as the "Father of Shiitake farming in the USA."
Shiitake have many uses in Chinese and Japanese cuisines. They are served in miso soup, used as the basis for a kind of vegetarian dashi, and also as an ingredient in many steamed and simmered dishes. In Thailand, they can be fried as well as steamed.
Shiitake are often dried and sold as preserved food in packages. These must be rehydrated by soaking in water before using. Many people prefer dried shiitake to fresh, considering that the sun-drying process draws out the superior umami flavour from the dried mushrooms by breaking down proteins into amino acids. The stems of shiitake are rarely used in Japanese and other cuisines, primarily because the stems are harder and take longer to cook than the soft fleshy caps. The highest grade of shiitake are called donko in Japanese.
Today, Shiitake mushrooms have become popular in many other countries as well. Russia produces and also consumes large amounts of them, mostly sold pickled; and the shiitake is slowly making its way into western cuisine as well. There is a global industry in shiitake production, with local farms in most western countries in addition to large scale importation from China, Japan, and elsewhere.
Because they can now be grown world wide, their availability is widespread and their price has decreased.
Shiitake mushrooms have been researched for their medicinal benefits, most notably their anti-tumor properties in laboratory mice. These studies have also identified the polysaccharide lentinan, a (1-3) β-D-glucan, as the active compound responsible for the anti-tumor effects.
Extracts from shiitake mushrooms have also been researched for many other immunological benefits, ranging from anti-viral properties to possible treatments for severe allergies, as well as arthritis.
References in popular culture
Shiitake is often referred to in popular culture, usually for its spelling similarity to "shit."
- In the 2002 film Austin Powers in Goldmember, a scene with a character speaking Japanese sees the sentence "Please eat some Shitake mushrooms" as a translation at the bottom of the screen. However, the "-ake mushrooms" portion is obscured temporarily so that it reads, "Please eat some Shit", implying the vernacular. Note that the correct spelling is "Shiitake"; without the modification the joke would not work. A similar joke appears in the movie Spy Kids.
- In the short film The Madagascar Penguins in a Christmas Caper, from the movie Madagascar (2004), one of the penguins, Skipper, exclaims "Shiitake Mushrooms!", again implying the vernacular.
- In the second series of The Catherine Tate Show, the fictional characters Janice and Ray, who frequently complain about restaurant meals, expressed disgust about being fed, what they described as "dried shit ache mushrooms".
- In the Japanese anime series Cowboy Bebop, shiitake mushrooms are a central plot device in the episode "Mushroom Samba."
- In the videogame Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, shiitake mushrooms can be found and eaten to restore the player's health.
- In the videogame Chrono Trigger, the party encounters large, mobile, mushroom-like enemies called "Shitake" in the Prehistoric period of 65,000,000 B.C.
- In the videogame Kingdom Hearts, if you bounce a Rare Truffle 50 times, you get a "Shiitake Rank" to signify that you have done so.
- In the book Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke, shiitake are one of the many types of mushrooms cultivated by brownies.
- On the cooking competition television programme Iron Chef, shiitake mushrooms are a common ingredient in many of the entrées.
- In the Japanese manga series Hajime no Ippo, Mamoru Takamura uses dried Shiitake as part of his weight management program in preparation for his World Championship title match.
- In the Spike TV game show, MXC, a game called "Eat Shitake" is played in which the players must hold on to a large artificial mushroom while it spins across a body of water. If they make it across without slipping off, they score a point for their team.
- In the movie Spy Kids, Carmen fixes her vulgar with the sentence " Oh shii..take mushrooms"
- Kazuko, Emi (2006). The Complete Book of Japanese Cooking. London: Hermes House. p. 77. ISBN 978-0-681-28004-5.
- Kim H, Kacew S, Lee B (1999). "In vitro chemopreventive effects of plant polysaccharides (Aloe barbadensis miller, Lentinus edodes, Ganoderma lucidum and Coriolus versicolor)". Carcinogenesis. 20 (8): 1637–40. PMID 10426820.
- Takehara M, Kuida K, Mori K (1979). "Antiviral activity of virus-like particles from Lentinus edodes (Shiitake)". Archives of Virology. 59 (3): 269–74. PMID 222241.
- Tsuji, Shizuo (1980). Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art. New York: Kodansha International/USA.
- Lentinula edodes page at Index Fungorum site
- Independent Scientific Research Database on Shiitake Medicinal Value
- Lentinan effects (antitumor and others)
- Firefox Shiitake extension