Mushrooms play an important role in Japanese cuisine and are widely used in various delicious dishes such as nabe (Japanese hot pot), oden, or deep-fried as mouthwatering tempura, etc. If you visit a grocery store in Japan, you may come across a wide range of mushrooms, including shiitake, enoki, maitake, among many others, leaving no doubts that mushrooms are popular here. It has been hypothesized that people in Japan began eating mushrooms as early as the Jomon era.
In general, mushrooms are low in calories and, depending on the type, can be a great source of vitamins B1 and B2, dietary fiber, niacin, vitamin D, and other nutrients. In fact, mushrooms are one of the 7 food categories that are part of healthy eating as suggested by “mago wa yasashii.” You can find out more about this Japanese acronym and the well-balanced diet it represents by reading our article: "Mago wa Yasashii: Japanese Key to Healthy Eating". Please keep reading to learn more about the mushrooms that are popular in Japan, as well as what to do if you would like to go mushroom picking in the land of the rising sun.
Around 5000 different types of mushrooms are thought to exist in Japan. Only a small portion of them, however, is suitable for consumption. For your convenience, we have listed some of the most popular and well-known mushrooms you're likely to see on the shelf of your local Japanese supermarket or on the menu of a restaurant in Japan.
Shitake was first cultivated during the Edo period and nowadays it is one of the most popular Japanese mushrooms. Besides Japan, this sort of mushroom with a meaty flavor is commercially cultivated in Italy, China, Spain, South Korea, as well as many other countries. Fresh is not always best and it certainly applies to shiitake mushrooms. Dried shiitake are much richer in vitamin D and contain more folate, as well as biotin which is not even present in fresh shiitake. Dried ones also have an "umami" flavor due to guanylic acid and are used in "shiitake dashi". Dashi soups play an important role in Japanese cuisine and you can learn more about them in this article. While the seasons for shiitake mushrooms are spring and autumn, it is widely cultivated and can be spotted on the shelves of supermarkets all year round.
In Japan, enoki is continuously the most produced sort of mushrooms. Thanks to its mild taste, enoki can be a fantastic addition to various dishes. While most of enoki sold in supermarkets is white in color, there is also a brown variety that is a cross between white and wild enoki mushrooms. When it comes to nutrition, enoki mushrooms are particularly rich in vitamin B1 and are a fantastic source of niacin, potassium, dietary fiber, etc. While its season lasts from late spring to winter, the vast majority of enoki mushrooms found in grocery stores are artificially cultivated, making them available regardless of the season.
Also known as ram's head or hen-of-the-woods, this mushroom has a rather peculiar Japanese name which translates to "dancing mushroom". According to one theory, maitake used to be very scarce, and people would dance for joy when they spotted one, thus giving this mushroom its unusual name. Another theory attributes the maitake's name to its shape. The season for maitake is from around September to October. However, the days of maitake being scarce and considered a luxury are long gone, and artificially cultivated "dancing mushrooms" can be found all year round in Japanese supermarkets. Maitake mushrooms are rich in vitamin B2, D, and are also a source of niacin, dietary fiber, protein, ergosterol, etc.
In Japan, buna-shimeji mushroom is the second most widely produced variety of mushrooms, right after the enoki mentioned above. Because of their mild flavor, buna-shimeji mushrooms are easy to mix with other ingredients. Its season lasts from around September to November. However, supermarkets generally sell artificially cultivated ones regardless of the season. This type of mushroom contains vitamin B1, B2, niacin, potassium, vitamin D, etc.
If you have ever been to Japan, you have probably encountered this sort of mushroom as one of the ingredients in a miso soup. Nameko mushrooms are known for their slimy texture and mild taste making it easy to incorporate them in a variety of dishes. In terms of nutrition, it contains niacin, dietary fiber, trehalose, biotin, folate, and more. The season for this type of mushroom is from autumn to winter. As it is the case with many other mushrooms, cultivated ones are available all year round on the shelves of the grocery stores in Japan.
Kikurage, also known as wood ear, is another unusually named mushroom on our list. In Japanese language, kikurage translates to "tree jellyfish". Its unusual name is thought to be derived from its taste, which is similar to dried jellyfish. Kikurage is perhaps not as well-known as the previously mentioned mushrooms, but it still has a strong presence in Japan and is often used in Chinese cuisine. It has a number of sorts with different nutritional values. In general, kikurage mushrooms are very rich in Vitamin D and can be considered an excellent source of calcium, iron, etc. It also contains plenty of dietary fiber making it important not to consume too much of it. The season for kikurage runs from around June to September. However, even if you have missed the season, you can easily purchase it at Japanese supermarkets all year round. While the vast majority of dried kikurage mushrooms in Japan are imported from China, local ones begun to appear on supermarket shelves in recent years.
Also known as King Oyster or Trumpet mushroom, Eryngi is a popular sort of mushroom sold throughout Japan. However, unlike the above introduced mushrooms, Eryngi is not native to Japan. Furthermore, It was first cultivated in the land of the rising sun only in 1993, making it a relatively new addition to the Japanese food scene. This type of mushrooms is a fantastic source of dietary fiber and also contains vitamin D, potassium, folate, etc.
While matsutake is a well-known mushroom, it is extremely unlikely to encounter one at the common grocery store. During Heain Period, gathering matsutake was a pastime for Japanese aristocracy and to these days this mushroom stays a luxury that can be a delicious treat at the exquisite restaurant or an excellent choice as a gift for doing "furusato nozei." Matsutake is not artificially cultivated which accounts for its scarcity. While imported ones can be relatively affordable, it is important to understand that mushrooms with attached soil cannot be imported into Japan, so matsutake from other countries are cleared of all soil and lose some of their aroma. The season for matsutake in Japan typically runs from September to October. In terms of nutrition, it is a great source of vitamin D, dietary fiber, niacin, folate, potassium, etc.
Although picking mushrooms is a common pastime in some countries, it is important to be aware that doing so without the landowner's permission is prohibited in Japan. While some areas may appear to belong to no one, they may actually be government-owned, etc. Therefore, it is important to do throughout research and make sure that your chosen area permits mushroom picking. Furthermore, many of us may not have sufficient knowledge to able to differentiate between edible and poisonous mushrooms, making mushroom foraging dangerous. Therefore, it can be advised to go to one of the locations offering mushroom gathering experience. The websites such as Jalan may be very useful for searching such places if you can understand Japanese language.
In this article, we have introduced some of the most popular mushrooms available in Japan. If you would like to move from theory to practice and incorporate some of Japanese mushrooms into your cooking, be sure to check our article about "Free English Websites for Japanese Food Recipes". While mushrooms are widely used in Japanese cuisine, the same can be said about Japanese seaweed. You can learn more about it in our artice: "What Is Japanese Seaweed? A Guide to Japan's Essential Ingredient"
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