Mushrooms the Key to Health + Umami

What’s been named one of the top food trends for the past two years and isn’t kale or cauliflower? What has the power to bring umami to both sweet and savory dishes in a way that’s one-part Jamie Oliver and one-part James Bond? Highly nutritious and loaded with nutrients, mushrooms might not be as flashy as kale, but are far more stealth-like in their ability to bring umami and health to formulations. And mushrooms are available virtually everywhere, especially the button mushroom and even the more glamorous shiitake. We’ve dug up some new info on mushrooms that hopefully should inspire some innovation.

Health Stats

Not a plant or a vegetable, mushrooms are actually fungi and consumers are only familiar with around 10 different varieties of the more than 2000 that exist. The button or champignon is the most popular but also contains the least calories (16 calories per cup) and has 34% of a consumer’s daily recommended dose of vitamin B3 / niacin.1

And the shiitake mushroom has nothing to be ashamed of. With the ability to challenge cancer cells, increase satiety to fight obesity, support both immune function and cardiovascular health, the shiitake mushroom is a powerful partner in a healthy diet. Loaded with copper, the shiitake offers consumers 40% of their suggested daily target.2

Food or Medicine?

Recognized for their cancer-fighting properties, specifically breast cancer,3 their impact on heart disease and their adaptogen ability in stress relief, mushrooms are continually studied by scientists as much as chefs. Mushrooms are the only plant source of Vitamin D, which is linked to lower obesity, diabetes, heart disease and more.4

Planet Friendly

One pound of mushrooms uses 1.8 gallons of water, 1.0 kilowatt hours of energy, and generates only 0.7 pounds of CO2 equivalent emissions. And because mushroom beds are stacked vertically, 1 million pounds of mushrooms can be produced on just one acre.5

Spotted and Seen / Stealthy Mushrooms

Mushrooms have a way of hiding out in applications where you least expect them while bringing a giant dose of umami. The best part is they do all this in a plant-based, clean label, and low-calorie kind of way. Check out some unexpected places mushrooms are standing out.

  • Granola brand, Purely Elizabeth is tapping the power of mushroom extracts for her new line of Superfood bars. With flavors like Coconut Cashew and Peanut Butter Banana, these bars are boosted with superfood reishi mushroom extract, a potent adaptogenic known as the “mushroom of immortality.”6
  • Substituting mushrooms for at least 50% of the beef in a hamburger preparation can help reduce the sodium by 25% and lowers the caloric and fat content as well while adding mouthwatering, unstoppable umami.7 The Blended Burger Project was born to entice chefs all over the U.S. to create burger concepts incorporating mushrooms. Started by the James Beard Foundation, the national contest saw 414 restaurants from 45 states competing for the best-blended burger. We couldn’t pick which of the five winning burgers sounds best but we could be persuaded to try Vintage Kitchen’s (Norfolk,VA) Backyard Burger. Built by blending grass-fed beef and an oyster mushroom confit, the burger is topped with aged double cheddar, cracklin’s and a charred ramp mayo. Finished with bacon rust, Cabernet Franc molasses, crispy Hayman potato straws, coffee salt, demi-pain perdu, and brown butter Mornay, that is a burger worth making ‘shroom for.
  • Pan’s Mushroom Jerky (Vancouver, WA) What started as a family recipe in Malaysia has become a family business in Washington. 100% meatless, the jerky is made from shiitake mushroom stems and are available in a Zesty Thai flavor and will launch a vegan option in several new flavors using the shiitake mushroom.
  • Like their jerky, vegans want to have their bacon and eat it too. Mushrooms have a chameleon-like way of absorbing the flavors of whatever they’re cooked in so treating them with the flavors of bacon just might work. Creative chefs have found that cutting thicker slices of shiitake mushrooms and cooking them in coconut oil and seasoning them with smoked paprika, liquid smoke and believe it or not, maple syrup makes them fabulously bacon-like. Check out all the ways Instagram home cooks and pros are using this tasty alternative.

Mushrooms, especially champignon and shiitake are an excellent source of umami bringing that mouthwatering response you’re seeking. Chefs love playing with Nikken’s mushroom powders in their dishes to bring the fifth taste to unexpected places. For development, we’ve got a crop of umami tricks up our sleeves that’ll have your consumers clamoring for more. We’d love to share.