Mesima, Black Hoof, Son-Gen mushrooms (scientific name Phellinus Linteus) are a type of fungi belonging to…
Maitake mushrooms (Grifola Frondosa), ram’s head, sheep’s head or hen-of-the-woods are polypore types of fungi (non-gilled mushrooms) that are fully edible and grow perennially in the same regions for a few years in a row. Their name “Maitake” means “dancing mushroom” in Japanese and needless to say, they are quite popular in Japan and other Asian regions.
Where To Find Maitake Mushrooms And When
Maitake mushrooms grow natively in temperate forest regions. They typically grow in clusters at the base of trunks of decayed or very old hardwood trees such as oaks, birches, maples and elm trees. Their major habitats include Japan, China, India, Northern Europe and North America. Their peak season is late summer to early autumn.
How To Identify Maitake Mushrooms
Just like the (Japanese) name suggests, Maitake mushrooms have a feathery and “dancing-like” appearance that resembles a sheep’s head or the ruffled feathers of an idle hen. They have a pale brown color when young which eventually turns to a greyish brown hue once they grow larger and reach maturity.
They have no gills and grow in clusters of brownish caps with flattened off-white tips. Their clusters can be as small as 4 inches or as big as 36 inches (10-90 cm) across. Each cap stretches around 1 to 3 inches (2.5 to 7.5 cm) in diameter and approx. a quarter of an inch (0.6 cm) in thickness. If you attempt to make a cross-section with a knife or sharp tool, their shape will resemble that of cauliflower or broccoli. Despite having no gills, they release a white spore print.
When they are young, they have a pleasant earthy aroma but their natural smell worsens and becomes rotten once they hit full maturity.
No toxic look-alikes of Maitake have been found so far, however, there are a few edible fungi types that belong in the same family and may be mistaken for Maitake. The most common look-alike is the black-staining polypore mushroom (Meripilus sumstinei), which turns black 30 to 40 minutes after being cut. Maitake have sometimes been confused with Chicken of the Woods mushrooms but this has probably got more to do with Maitake’s name of hen-of-the-woods than with any visual resemblance.
Health Benefits Of Maitake Mushrooms
Maitake mushrooms have been used for thousands of years in Asian folk medicine. They are considered to be “adaptogens” which means that they smartly adapt to the condition of the body and encourage healing, regardless of where the problem lies. Maitake are naturally packed with several antioxidant nutrients such as beta-glucans, polysaccharides, Vitamins B & C, copper, zinc, phosphorus and potassium among others. They are also free of fat and very low in calories, making them an excellent choice for those on a weight-loss diet. Even though there is lack of large and official studies regarding their disease-fighting properties, a few studies have suggested that Maitake mushrooms, in dry powder, liquid supplement, or capsule form, may help control the development of these conditions:-
- High blood cholesterol
- Diabetes type II
- Reproductive system cancers e.g breast or prostate cancer
- Cold and flu viral infections
- Autoimmune diseases
How To Cook Them
Maitake mushrooms have a rich earthy scent and taste and thus are a popular fungi choice among chefs and foodies across the world, especially in Asian cuisines. You may use them fresh or dried in several dishes such as stir-frys, soups, risottos, pasta, stews, roasts and even grilled dishes. If you are using them fresh, most food experts recommend that you saute them for a few minutes to make the most of their flavor and texture, compared to other cooking methods. Here is a quick 10-minute recipe to enjoy them with eggs.
- 1 pound fresh Maitake mushrooms
- 4 large eggs
- 1 clove of garlic, minced
- 1 tsp dried or fresh thyme
- ⅓ cup olive oil
- Wipe the mushrooms clean with a wet cloth and trim their hard base. Slice into small random-shaped pieces.
- Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan, add the mushrooms and saute for around 8 minutes or until all their liquids have evaporated. Add the garlic during the last two minutes of cooking and saute for another minute or so.
- Season with salt and pepper.
- Add the eggs. Stir lightly with a spatula to scramble them and cook until the eggs have set. Finally, add the thyme.
- Serve warm.
Maitake mushrooms are highly sought after in Asia and North America because of their culinary and medicinal properties. Even though they are expensive to buy and tricky to grow at home, you may find them freely in the wild in temperate forest regions on trees like oaks and elms.
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