Why are Mushrooms  the ultimate meat alternative

Due to its vitamin content, amino acid (protein) profile, not to mention its awesome flavour and texture mushrooms are the ultimate meat replacement. Then of course there are their health properties.

We often speak with people new to a plant-based diet, and sometimes worried parents of new vegans, about mushrooms as a nutritional replacement for meat.

When it comes to nutrition we are big believers in functional foods rather than loading up with pills and supplements and also whole foods, rather than heavily processed foods (for instance fortified breakfast cereals). Here’s the thing about mushrooms, when it comes down to the so-called “superfoods” like kale, broccoli and Tumeric, mushrooms simply leave them in the dust, here’s how…

Flavour

In a word, it’s all about UMAMI. Mushrooms add a flavour known as umami that tends to be very satisfying, which makes them ideal to add in pasta sauce for example to maintain a rich flavour and texture while reducing or eliminating the meat they contain. In dishes that contain large amounts of meat, replace a quarter to a half of the meat with mushrooms to make a dish lower in calories and still delicious.

Texture

We often describe gourmet mushrooms as being playful in the kitchen due to the different cooking treatments you can give them to change their texture.

  • The Pink Oyster mushroom can be fried to become crispy (some people refer to this a vegan bacon as it’s probably the closest you’ll get). I often tell people to channel tacos for this, at they are a perfect combination. If you cook the pinks more as a stirfry, noodle dish or soap, they will become a chewier, fleshy (or meaty) texture. Perfect where you may want to enjoy some mastication to move flavours around your palate.
  • Grey Oysters, I often describe as the chicken of mushrooms, in that any dish that requires chicken you can replace with them. They are beyond awesome in any Italian dish like pasta or risotto. Any Asian dish (with the Chinese often using them whole in a soup like Tom Yum). With thicker Greys, I like to use a fork to shred them then put them on a baking tray drizzled with some oil and my secret herbs and spices to make small burgers for sliders (think pulled pork).

Nutrition

The nutritional value of mushrooms is closer to meat than a plant, so contain many things that are hard to get or completely missing from a vegan diet.

The nutrients in 4 dried shiitake (15 grams) are ((Source):

  • Calories: 44
  • Carbs: 11 grams
  • Fibre: 2 grams
  • Protein: 1 gram
  • Riboflavin: 11% of the Daily Value (DV)
  • Niacin: 11% of the DV
  • Copper: 39% of the DV
  • Vitamin B5: 33% of the DV
  • Selenium: 10% of the DV
  • Manganese: 9% of the DV
  • Zinc: 8% of the DV
  • Vitamin B6: 7% of the DV
  • Folate: 6% of the DV
  • Vitamin D: 6% of the DV
  • In addition, shiitake contain many of the same amino acids as meat (3).
Protein

Mushrooms do not constitute a massive source of protein however, the protein present in mushrooms contains all nine essential amino acids (EAAs), in contrast to most other plant-based protein options which are typically missing one or more EAAs. Mushrooms also have a high branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) composition, which is usually only found in animal-based protein sources.

In fact, mushroom proteins rival the quality of what is seen in animal-derived protein sources, including protein powders, and are nearly equivalent to the protein quality found in meat. The in vitro protein digestibility (IVPD),  protein digestibility corrected amino acid score (PDCAAS), essential amino acid index (EAAI), and protein efficiency ratios (PER) showed favourable results in research, demonstrating that the amino acid content in mushrooms is comparable to that of ovalbumin and surpasses soybean and wheat scores (WHO/FAO reference standards). Both cooked and uncooked mushrooms contain high-quality proteins that are easily absorbed and bioavailable, denoting their superiority to other protein sources. In a randomized crossover study that assessed the difference in satiety levels between mushrooms and meat, participants expressed significantly less hunger, a greater sense of fullness, and reduced prospective consumption after consuming the mushroom meal compared with those participants given meat.

Vitamins
  • Vitamin D is massively important and can be hard to get in the winter months. Long term deficiency can lead to problems as far-ranging as weak and brittle bones through to lower immune system response. This vitamin’s so important it gets its own section
Vitamin B group

Depending on the variety mushrooms are a great source of the Vitamin B group. Another important vitamin that has its own section.

  • riboflavin, or B-2
  • folate, or B-9
  • thiamine, or B-1
  • pantothenic acid, or B-5
  • niacin, or B-3
  • B12 (but relatively low)
Minerals

Depending on the variety mushrooms also have several minerals that may be difficult to obtain from a vegan diet — such as selenium, potassium, copper, iron, and phosphorus.

Health Properties

In addition to the nutritional benefits of mushrooms, many of them have other properties that improve a person’s overall health. For instance in boosting the immune system, to fighting cancer.

Further reading