Mushrooms are the equivalent of meat for vegetarians. When cooked, their spongy, porous flesh sucks up all the delicious juices of a cooked meal, becoming soft and tender, meaty and delicate. They can fill the role of side dish just as easily as they can be the centerpiece, making them a flexible ingredient in the culinary world.
There is a nutritional underworld in mushrooms often overlooked, though. To look at a nutrition label for Crimini mushrooms overlooks the plethora of vitamins and minerals that can benefit greatly benefit your health. Work a couple cups of mushrooms into your weekly diet, and experience all delicious health benefits that Crimini mushrooms have to offer!
Crimini Mushroom History and Culture
Crimini mushrooms originate in the grasslands of Europe and North America. They have been eaten by hunters and gathers for centuries, dating back before recorded history. They have been used in ancient cultures for their mystical powers – the Egyptians believed it would make them immortal. The Greeks believed it was a food fit for the Gods. Cultures around the world all thought it would grant its eater super strength.
Regular cultivation of button mushrooms did not occur until the late 19th century, when the Pasteur Institute in Paris discovered how to sterilize mushroom spawn. This gave rise to the proliferation of mushroom production the world over. In 1926, a Pennsylvanian farmer discovered a white strain of button mushroom, and this has become a staple in the edible mushroom world. In 2009, the US produced 823 million pounds of mushrooms, and imported an additional 357 million pounds to satiate our taste for them.
Mushrooms are a fungus, and as such, they do not have roots, leaves, or flowers. Crimini mushrooms are actually a fungus called Agaricus bisporus, and this is generally the type of mushroom you’ll find in your produce section. When it is harvested young, it is referred to as white mushrooms – or button mushrooms. After they grow and mature further, they enlarge and their skin becomes a light brown. These are referred to as Crimini, baby bella, or baby Portobello mushrooms. When matured beyond this point, they become the prized Portobello mushroom.
The Health Benefits of Crimini Mushrooms
We know relatively little about mushroom culture, but our knowledge of mushroom nutrition has been continuously expanding for the past 20 years.
Mushrooms have a variety of phytonutrients unique to their fungus heritage. Some of these have been attributed with anti-cancer properties, especially breast cancer in women, where these phytonutrients help regulate estrogen levels in the bloodstream. Mushrooms also have very high levels of selenium – providing 25%DV in 19 calories – which is essential for the proper function of the overall antioxidant system.
In 19 calories of mushrooms, you get about 5% of your daily intake of zinc. Zinc deficiency has reached epidemic levels, affecting roughly two billion people worldwide. This can lead to inhibited growth, lowered immune system function, and diarrhea. So, the importance of zinc in the diet should not be understated. It is one of the most crucial minerals in maintaining a healthy, balanced immune system. It assists in healing, blood sugar regulation, and helps prevent damage to blood vessels.
Mushrooms have high levels of niacin, as well. A cup of mushrooms yields about 12% of your daily recommended niacin intake. In one study, niacin has been shown to decrease the chances of Alzheimer’s in 65+ adults, when consumed at around 22mg / day. Niacin has the added benefit of lowering cholesterol levels, as well.
Crimini mushrooms also contain both iron and copper in significant quantities. These work together in the body to make hemoglobin. This is the part of the red blood cell that actually delivers oxygen around the body.
Eating More Mushrooms
To enjoy the health benefits that mushrooms have to offer, try to eat at least two servings a week. They are easily incorporated into most meals – especially sloppy ones like stir fries and scrambled eggs. Don’t be deterred by the hefty price tag on some mushrooms, like maitake and shitake mushrooms. The much cheaper and more readily available Crimini and button mushrooms have just as many health benefits as their exotic counterparts. Mushrooms are also very light for their size, making $3 / lb. seem like a heck of a deal.
When selecting mushrooms, pick ones that are relatively blemish free, have big caps, and are firm. They shouldn’t be slimy or wet. Make sure to grab a brown bag to put them in, rather than the clear plastic bags you use for most produce. Mushrooms keep longer when they are not exposed to light. Refrigerate them, and they should last for at least a few days.
Crimini mushrooms can be eaten raw or cooked. They are most commonly eaten raw in salads, which can make the salad more savory, although some people don’t enjoy the fibrous texture of raw mushrooms. Cooked, they can be sautéed, baked, or fried. Browned onions and garlic both complement cooked mushrooms very well.