Loved, or loathed, depending on who you ask, mushrooms come in many forms, including those readily available in the grocery store, and others — like morels — that require more determined sourcing.
Mushrooms are nutritional powerhouses packed with antioxidants, minerals, fiber and vitamins. This uniquely delicious fungus contains a form of soluble fiber known as beta glucan. Consuming high amounts of beta glucan has been linked to increased heart health, reduced cholesterol levels and improved regulation of blood sugar. Mushrooms are also rich in B vitamins which also protect the heart, skin, and digestive system.
Mushrooms can be a significant source of Vitamin D in your diet. Just like humans, mushrooms can produce vitamin D when they're exposed to the sun's UVB rays, however they do it much more efficiently: exposing the "gills" to 10-15 minutes of direct sunlight during months when UVB light is available (in the Inland Northwest, that's April through October) will result in 20,000 times more vitamin D in the mushroom.
When found in the wild, mushrooms can be either wonderfully delicious or horribly deadly. Unless you are an expert at mushroom foraging, don't eat wild mushrooms you picked yourself. There are plenty of expert foragers that sell their bounty at local farmers markets and a wide variety found at grocery stores.
How to Use It
If you want to eat mushrooms for their vitamin D, you can place fresh mushrooms gills-up in direct sunlight. Simply let them sit in the sun for 15 minutes or so, then prepare them as normal. Be aware that since (like ourselves) mushrooms can't produce this vitamin without the sun's UVB rays, this will only work between the months of April and October in the northern regions of the country, including the Inland Northwest.
Some more "exotic" types of mushrooms can only be purchased dried but are easily rehydrated with a quick soak in water. Oyster and shiitake mushrooms are among the highest in beta glucan content and are also favorites for their unique flavors. Portabellas are rich in potassium and can be marinated and grilled like a patty to make a unique and healthy burger.
Stacey Aggarwal received a PhD in Pharmacology from the University of Washington. She writes about biology, health and nutrition while running a lavender farm in North Idaho.