Chew on This

The magic of mushrooms

When I say mushrooms are magic it is not in reference to any mind-altering properties of certain varieties.

Rather, it’s that mushrooms wondrously boost the taste and nutrition of a meat recipe. Blendability is the phrase I kept hearing at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics meeting. Three easy steps for bendability are:

Chop up your favorite mushroom variety to match the consistency of the ground meat in the recipe.

Cook and season mushrooms the same way you would meat.

Combine the cooked meat and mushrooms and use the mix to complete your recipe.

Mushrooms work well with meat since they have umami, the pleasant savory taste produced by naturally occurring glutamate. Umami counterbalances saltiness and allows for less salt to be used in a meal, without compromising flavor. Their texture and color are also perfect for turning one pound of ground beef into a larger and healthier main course.

The measurable taste and potential health benefits of blendability were measured and discussed in a recent issue of the Journal of Food Science. Nutritionists and chefs from the Culinary Institute of America tested different amounts of chopped mushrooms added to a beef taco blend. Their findings, after rigorous taste testing, was that substituting 50 to 80 percent of meat for mushrooms enhanced overall flavor of the beef taco with a 25 percent sodium reduction. Seared and roasted mushrooms had the flavor enhancement potential.

Taste is supreme but the nutritional benefits are many. Mushrooms contain B vitamins, fiber, copper, blood pressure-lowering potassium and selenium, which works with iodine to keep the thyroid function strong and consistent. And mushrooms are the only vegetable with vitamin D.

Phytonutrients include Triterpenes, a steroid-like molecule that inhibits histamine release and has anti-inflammatory properties. Shitake mushrooms, which appear to stimulate the immune system, have been used for centuries by the Chinese and Japanese to treat colds and flu.

For science, recipes and trivia about mushrooms go to www.mushroominfo.com. I found roasted brussels sprouts with baby bella bacon bits this weekend that I can’t wait to make.

Sheah Rarback is a registered dietitian on the faculty of the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine. Follow her on Twitter @sheahrarback.

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