Mushrooms: One of the Best Alternatives to Meat for Vegetarians
Without a doubt, mushrooms are among the oldest food stuffs known to people since prehistoric times. Supernatural strength, the ability to cure illnesses as well as give immortality was ascribed to them in antiquity. In ancient Egypt, only pharaohs had the right to eat them, and in Rome, they were considered to be of divine origin.
Japan and China were the first countries to start cultivating mushrooms many centuries ago. In Europe, this process began in the seventeenth century. There are lots of varieties of edible mushrooms, and some of them, such as shiitake and maitake, have distinct medicinal properties. Nowadays, the most popular kinds are crimini, Portobello, and button mushrooms, which are believed to belong to one strain.
Although they aren’t packed with protein, these plants surpass meat in many characteristics: they are rich sources of vitamins and minerals. Moreover, they are full of substances with antioxidant, anti-cancerous, and anti-microbial qualities.
100g of crimini mushrooms contain:
- Copper – 0.48mg (53% of RDA)
- Selenium – 24.7mcg (44% of RDA)
- Vitamin B2 – 0.47mg (36% of RDA)
- Vitamin B5 – 1.4mg (28% of RDA)
- Phosphorus – 112.4mg (16% of RDA)
- Potassium – 420.56mg (12% of RDA)
- Zinc – 1.04mg (9% of RDA)
- Vitamin B1 – 0.09mg (8% of RDA)
- Manganese – 0.12mg (7% of RDA)
- Vitamin B6 – 0.1mg (7% of RDA)
- Folate – 24mcg (7% of RDA)
- Protein – 3g (7% of RDA)
- Vitamin B12 – 0.09 (4% of RDA)
Mushrooms don’t contain fat and carbohydrates. They are the only plant source of vitamin D, which forms in them as the result of their exposure to sunlight.
Health Benefits of Mushrooms
The unique chemical content makes them not only a tasty food product, but a powerful means for curing and preventing certain serious diseases such as:
- Cardiovascular disorders.
The enumeration of nutrients in mushrooms is a good testimony to their being greatly favorable in treating heart and blood vessels conditions. They are rich in dietary fiber which is free from fat and cholesterol and consists mainly of lean protein. This is essential for lowering the levels of cholesterol in the body and preventing atherosclerosis. The high content of potassium guarantees normal blood pressure and protects against heart attacks.
- As studies have shown, these plants may be beneficial in preventing certain kinds of cancer, namely, breast and prostate cancer. This is connected to high quantities of chemical substances with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Selenium, folate, and certain flavonoids fight free radicals that damage cells and can provoke cancer. In addition, selenium promotes the functioning of liver enzymes and detoxifying harmful substances in the body. Folate, vitamins D and B12 play an important role in the growth and repair of cells during the synthesis of DNA. Linolenic acid regulates levels of estrogen, an excess of which can result in cancer.
- According to studies, eating mushrooms is beneficial for people suffering from both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. One cup of them, stir-fried or grilled, provides 3 – 4g of fiber, which regulates sugar levels. In addition, certain quantities of natural insulin and special enzymes, which split sugar and starch, have been found in them.
- The state of the immune system.
As mushrooms belong to the family of fungi, they inhibit the growth of microbes, i.e., act as antibiotics. A special kind of fiber found in their wall cells stimulates the production of T-cells that kill harmful organisms and tumors in the body. The strong immunity is also supported by the high content of selenium and zinc.
- Metabolism and weight issues.
Vitamins V2 and B5 promote metabolic processes in the body. These vitamins, according to many scientists’ opinion, play a crucial role in energy metabolism, converting fats, carbohydrates, and proteins into fuel for the body’s functioning. The quantity of vitamin B5 is different in various mushrooms, ranging from 52% of RDA in shiitake to 28% in crimini. All kinds of mushrooms are helpful for weight loss due to fiber, which curbs appetite, and a very low caloric content.
What and How to Cook with Mushrooms
One of the most characteristic features of mushrooms is their flavor which is similar to that of meat. You can incorporate them practically in any dish where meat is needed. However, mushrooms by themselves are not less of a valuable and delicious food product. They may be consumed stir-fried, grilled, boiled, canned, fermented, and even raw, although the taste is not very desirable. There are dozens of ways to cook and use them, for example:
- Use them with almost all pasta dishes. Add sliced mushrooms to noodles or chop them finely and stuff macaroni with them.
- Add to risotto, salads, sandwich toppings, and sauces.
- Prepare side dishes by sautéing with vegetables.
- Make sausages and cutlets after mincing them.
- Stuff buttons with any medley.
- Make raviolis and pies using them as stuff.
- Use as a filling for tortillas.
Here’s a recipe for cooking mushrooms as a substitute for mincemeat.
- Champignons, 300g
- Vegetable oil or some other kind of spiced oil, 2tbs
- Water, 150ml
- Black pepper and salt, to your taste.
- Grate or chop mushrooms into medium chunks.
- Pour the oil into the pan and place on low heat. When the oil gets warm, put the mushrooms into the pan and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring all the time.
- When they become wilted, pour the water in and cook for 10 minutes more. Wait until the water evaporates and the mushrooms become soft.
- After adding salt and pepper, let the dish cool down.
- Keep in the freezer and add to any dish.
The Rules of Buying Mushrooms
These plants are cultivated in specially prepared soil. If manufacturers don’t follow the strict rules as to its quality, mushrooms can be contaminated with various harmful substances such as microbes, heavy metals, and pesticides. Therefore, it’s advisable to buy mushrooms in a reputed store or, if you buy them at a farmer’s market, from a farm with a good reputation. It’s safer to select organic plants.
Select firm, unblemished, and clean mushrooms. Ensure that they are dry and not slimy, if you buy them loose. Check the date of packaging if you buy them prepackaged and make sure that they haven’t formed a clump.
The Rules of Storage
To keep mushrooms as fresh as possible, prevent them from coming into contact with each other. You can put them on a dish in several layers, covering each layer with a slightly wet cloth. The other method is keeping them in a paper bag that shouldn’t be closed tightly. Cover the bag with a wet towel and store in a refrigerator. By doing so, they will remain fresh for five to seven days.
Dried mushrooms, which are a good alternative to fresh, should be placed in a tightly closed container. Keep them in the freezer for up to one year.
Precautions for Consuming Mushrooms
Gathering mushrooms requires specific knowledge and skills. Therefore, these rules only concern their consumption:
- Don’t eat any unknown kind of mushrooms. Even if you find its picture in the Internet, you can’t be sure of its identity. Consult a connoisseur.
- Don’t eat mushrooms that have a suspicious appearance; those that have spots or a slimy skin. Throw them away. One spoilt plant can ruin the whole dish.
- Avoid combining alcohol with mushrooms.
- Cook them thoroughly. It’s not advisable to eat them raw, although many people do this without any negative consequences to their health.
- When you eat a new kind of mushroom for the first time, eat a very small portion.
- Don’t eat too many mushrooms in one meal. One cup of cooked mushrooms is quite enough. It’s better to eat them more often than in large portions.