The shiitake, also called the oakwood mushroom or the black forest mushroom in English-speaking countries, is an edible brown mushroom that is native to Japan, China, and Korea. It has been cultivated for over a thousand years, and fresh and dried shiitake remain popular in East Asia today. Like maitake muhsrooms, which bear a similar nutritional profile, shiitake is commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine due to its alleged healing properties.
Though less popular in the West than the East, the shiitake mushroom is nonetheless prized in North America and Europe for their robust taste, curious texture, and nutritiousness. Indeed, some researchers tasked with investigating the health benefits of shiitake have proclaimed it a superfood. Let’s find out why.
According to the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, shiitake mushrooms contain an active compound called lentinan (a form of beta-glucan) that stimulates the immune system, which in turn activates cells and proteins that can inhibit cancerous growths. A 2011 study by researchers at the Chinese University of Hong Kong also found that the shiitake is a good source of antioxidants such as selenium, which can eliminate the cancer-causing effects of free radicals.
According to researchers at the Lulea University of Technology in Sweden, a compound in shiitake called eritadenine has the ability to lower cholesterol. Another, unrelated study by researchers at the Obihiro University of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine in Japan found that rats who ate shiitake and maitake excreted cholesterol, resulting in fewer cholesterol in their bodies.