We often speak with people either new to a plant-based diet, or worried parents of vegan children about Nutrition - and the role of fungi as a meat alternative.
When it comes to nutrition we are big believers in whole and functional foods rather than loading up with pills and supplements. Also the negative impact of heavily processed foods, like fortified breakfast cereals, which have become central to a plant-based diet. Neither of these is sustainable for a long-term diet strategy.
Here's the magic thing about mushrooms, when it comes to the so-called "superfoods" like kale, broccoli and Tumeric, mushrooms simply leave them in the dust. Here's why...
In a word, it's all about UMAMI. Mushrooms add a flavour known as umami that tends to be very satisfying. It makes them ideal to add in pasta sauce 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.
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 as vegan bacon as it's probably the closest you'll get). I often tell people to channel tacos for this, and 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 Mushrooms, 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).
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 (Source).
Mushrooms are not a massive source of protein, but they do have all nine essential amino acids (EAAs) only found in meat, and missing from plant-based sources. Mushrooms also have a high branched-chain amino acid (BCAA), again found only 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. Read more about this in our article on mushroom protein.
Vitamin D (especially for vegans)
This is a vitamin that is very difficult to source from a plant-only diet. It's also a massively important one during the winter months or for people wearing a lot of sun cream. 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 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 is relatively low, with the exception of Shiitake.
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.
7. Other 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, boosting the immune system, and in some cases the positive results in fighting cancer.
Meat Alternative - further reading