Evidenced by the esteemed status mushrooms continue to hold in Japan as a symbol of longevity, the traditional Japanese diet is often tied to spiritual practices. Mushrooms have been historically popular because they line up with the traditional low/calorie/low-fat Japanese diet. Along with being rich in antioxidants and vitamins, mushrooms typically contain 20 calories per serving, little sodium, and no fat or cholesterol.
Along with being praised for lasting health benefits, mushrooms are popular for their flavor. One of few foods to naturally have the Umami flavor, its appearance in mushrooms was actually discovered by the Japanese. The name umami actually derives from the Japanese word Umai, meaning delicious.
The rich, meaty taste sensation of mushrooms not only makes you crave other foods but also counterbalances saltiness. This allows a decreased sodium content in meals without compromising taste. Both a complementing ingredient and a star player, mushrooms can support or define a dish.
Japanese cuisine, along with most east Asian countries, utilize numerous mushroom varieties in their dishes. Here are a few that are especially significant.
White Button: Mild in taste and low in cost, this versatile variety gains flavor as it cooks.
Shiitake: Despite being widely cultivated, shiitake mushrooms maintain the earthy flavor of wild mushrooms.
Maitake: A Japanese native, this variety has a rich, woodsy taste coupled with a distinct aroma.
Enoki: Light and crisp, this variety is popular in both Japanese and Korean cuisine. It’s typically used in soups and salads.
Eryngii: Sometimes referred to as King Oyster mushrooms in the west, this mushroom has a mild almond taste with a meaty texture.
Shimeji: Crisp and crunchy, these are praised for their subtle nutty flavor.