You’ve heard all about kale, turmeric and moringa. But did you know that mushrooms are also a superfood? The umami-rich fungi have many health benefits, from improving skincare to reducing anxiety. It all depends on which type of mushroom and how you prepare it.
Tero Isokauppila, chemist, plant nutritionist, mushroom forager and author of the forthcoming book “Healing Mushrooms: A Practical and Culinary Guide to Using Mushrooms for Whole Body Health,” talks us through the healthiest ‘shrooms we should be incorporating into our diet. Also the founder of Four Sigmatic, a company that sells mushroom elixirs, coffees, teas and more healthful concoctions, Isokauppila gives us tips on how to best harness the power of the superfood. Plus, he shares a recipe for a cordyceps mushroom cocktail which he delightfully calls Cordysex on the Beach.
The science of functional mushrooms
Beyond being a good source of fiber, protein and vitamins, our fungal friends also have healing properties. “Fungi, the kingdom of mushrooms, is actually the oldest kingdom living on dry land and they have a lot of bioavailable nutrients that animals, including humans, can utilize,” Isokauppila explains. Among the many health benefits, Isokauppila notes that they’re good for immunity, cognitive function, gut health, skincare, weight loss and anxiety.
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It isn’t just any mushroom. Isokauppila clarifies that certain mushrooms are “functional,” meaning they contain medicinal properties. Some that fall into that category you’ve likely heard of — enoki, shitake, maitake, oyster mushrooms — while others are more obscure — cordyceps and chaga and reishi. While they all can be used in cooking, some mushrooms, such as chanterelles, morels and cremini, don’t provide the same medicinal benefits and are strictly culinary.
Mellow mushrooms to treat anxiety
Mellow Mushroom is a catchy name for a chain pizza joint, but there is some truth behind the moniker.
One of the healthiest mushrooms, reishi, is known as “queen of the mushrooms” and has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. It’s a powerful adaptogen, meaning it helps the body fight stress and bolster immunity, Isokauppila explains. As far as consuming it, reishi is typically made into an extract and dissolved in liquid form. Four Sigmatic sells a stress reducing reishi hot cocoa.
Oyster mushrooms, which you can enjoy more traditionally in soups and stir-fries, are chockful of B vitamins, which help calm you and release serotonin and also improve the skin.
Antioxidants and Immunity
The king to reishi’s queen would be chaga, Isokauppila says, which has one of the highest sources of antioxidants of any food in the world. Antioxidants in chaga help with skin and hair health, immunity and contain cancer-fighting compounds.
Because chaga is naturally bitter, Isokauppila recommends first trying it as an extract in coffee or chocolate, bitters that our palette is already accustomed to.
You’re likely familiar with shiitake and maitake mushrooms, a popular culinary choice in Asian cuisine. But these also have medicinal properties. Maitake aids in weight-loss because it stabilizes blood sugar and improves digestion, Isokauppila explains, as does shiitake, because it helps detox the liver and lower cholesterol.
Cooking with mushrooms
According to Isokauppila, you really shouldn’t eat mushrooms raw — more than just because they taste so much better cooked. “Mushrooms are not bioavailable raw,” he explains. “They need heat and lipids to unlock the health benefits.” He explains that their cell structure contains chitin, which is the same hard material found in a lobster shell. The process of heating can also remove toxins.
If you’d like to enjoy in a tea or chocolate, you’ll have to use a tincture. You can make one on your own, or purchase mushroom extracts at Whole Foods or other natural product stores.
Isokauppila suggests mushrooms as healthy, vegan substitutes for meats and starches: enoki mushroom fries, shiitake bacon, or oyster mushroom chowder.
Alcohol can help extract the nutrients, too. He shares a recipe for “Corydsex on the beach,” which mixes cordyceps extract with vodka and fruit juice, below:
Cordysex on the Beach, courtesy of Tero Isokauppila
Paleo Vegan Gluten-free Low-fat
Somewhere along the way, this drink became something of a legend. Maybe because the play on words in the name is incredibly apt – you know by now that cordyceps can make people frisky. That said, proceed with caution.
Makes 2 Drinks
Total Time: 5 Minutes
· 1 Cup of 100% cranberry juice
· 1 peach, pitted
· 1 orange or grapefruit, supreme (see Note)
· 2 grams cordyceps extract
· 1 to 3 ounces vodka (optional)
· 3 big ice cubes
· Orange slices, for garnish
Combine the cranberry juice, peach, orange supremes, cordyceps, vodka (if using), and ¼ cup cold water in a blender and blend until smooth. Serve over ice in a highball glass and garnish with an orange slice.
Note – To supreme a citrus fruit, trim off the top and bottom of the fruit with a sharp knife. Set the fruit on its end and slice away all the peel and white pith, following the curves of the fruit. Slice to the left and right of each membrane. The citrus wedges should come out easily.