A staple of Japanese cuisine, shimeji mushrooms have gained popularity worldwide thanks to their delicious flavor. Yet, not many people know that these fungi have several potential health benefits, including reducing blood pressure and cholesterol.
These species are incredibly confusing, as there isn’t only one type of shimeji mushroom. Still, we’ve done our best to collect all the info you need before taking the plunge into these Asian wonders.
Shimeji mushrooms encompass a series of edible fungi species found mainly in Japan and other parts of Asia. They’re also present in North America and Europe, although to a much lesser extent.
While “shimeji mushroom” is an umbrella term, most experts agree that the “authentic” shimeji species is Hypsizygus tessulatus (H. tessulatus). Known for its delicious nutty flavor and oyster-like aspect, this mushroom has gained popularity due to its dozens of potential health benefits.
H. tessulatus goes by many names, including:
H. tessulatus’s distinctive sweet fragrance sets it apart from other common edible species, such as shiitakes and oyster mushrooms. Like most other fungi, it has a pleasant umami flavor and a firm but crunchy texture, making it the ideal choice for replacing meat (1).
H. tessulatus has a 2-7 cm (0.7-2.7 in) cap with convex or plane edges. Its previous name (H. marmoreus) comes from its distinctive cap water spots, giving it a slightly marbled look. When young, H. tessulatus has a dark tan color that fades to a creamy brown as the mushroom ages.
Its stem is unusually thick, often tapering towards the base of the mushroom. Its exact length varies greatly among specimens. H. tessalatus’s spore print is white, leaving behind a spherical or egg-shaped figure (1).
There are many fungi species considered to be shimeji besides H. tessulatus. It’s impossible to know exactly how many species fall under this umbrella—but most experts agree that there are five other shimeji mushrooms.
The first one is Lyophyllum shimeji, a pine fungus that competes with H. tessulatus for the “true shimeji” status. Native to East Asia, this species is considered a delicacy in Japan and other countries. Unfortunately, it has become rarer due to the progressive loss of pine forests (2).
Bunapi shimeji, on the other hand, isn’t considered a species on its own—rather, it’s a variation of H. tessulatus. It differs because it’s a completely white fungus instead of having that distinctive brown tan. As a result, Bunapi shimeji is often known as white beech or white clamshell mushroom (3).
Lyophyllum decastes is very similar to L. shimeji, sharing most traits regarding appearance and taste. Yet, experts agree that L. decastes is usually smaller, presenting a thinner stem and a more modest cap (4).
Hypsizygus ulmarius is another (albeit less famous) contender for the “true shimeji status.” It’s almost identical to H. tessulatus—but with the key difference that H. ulmarius presents distinct cracks on the cap (5).
The final shimeji species is Agrocybe aegerita. Also known as “black poplar” and “sword-belt mushroom,” A. aegerita grows on the trunk of dead trees everywhere in the world. However, at first sight, this species may look closer to a white button mushroom (Agaricus bisporus) than to a “true shimeji” (6).
Edible mushrooms have a long history of use in most parts of Asia. In Ancient China, for example, fungi were considered an elixir of life and an absolute delicacy. Chinese mycology records date back as far as 1245, with rudimentary descriptions of species native to Asia (7).
Similarly, Ancient Japan and Korea also had a strong relationship with fungi. Japanese records of edible species such as shiitake mushrooms date very far back, although no specific mention of shimeji is known (8).
Instead, the first known mention of the “true shimeji” is its first description by Pierre Bulliard in 1791. Although he originally named it “Agaricus tessulatus,” Howard Bigelow later reclassified it in 1872 (1).
The cultivation of H. tessulatus was first patented in 1972 by Japanese company Takara Holdings. Since then, the species has become a staple in Japanese cuisine and widely available not only in Asian grocery stores, but also in more mainstream supermarkets.
However, in recent history, there has been a lot of debate among the scientific community regarding the true shimeji species. Articles published between 1988 and 1933 agree that only two contenders exist: H. tessulatus and L. shimeji. Still, the confusion remains prevalent in most parts of the world (1).
There are many health benefits related to shimeji mushrooms, but the confusion between all the shimeji species makes them hard to pinpoint. However, there have been a few studies investigating specific species.
Regarding H. tessulatus, several papers found that it can have significant anticancer activity. Similarly, it can lower cholesterol levels in blood and cells while also being a potent antioxidant. Other studies have shown that H. tessulatus may also help reduce stroke risk in persons with hypertension and protect lung health (9) (10).
L. shimeji, on the other hand, has shown a lot of promise in treating severe cases of blood clots. As such, it may be useful in treating thrombosis—a condition that causes painful clots that block veins and arteries in specific parts of the body (11).
Unfortunately, there haven’t been any specific studies regarding the nutritional content of shimeji mushrooms. Yet, we can gather that they are similar to those of other functional fungi, which are (12):
Still, it’s important to remember that shimeji mushrooms are often misclassified, so it’s not recommended to take them for medicinal purposes without the supervision of a doctor.
Shimeji mushrooms are mostly native to East Asia—most notably Japan, Korea, and China. It’s also possible to find them in Europe, North America, and the rest of Asia. It’s worth noting that some shimeji species are pickier than others regarding where they can grow.
H. tessulatus is similar to oyster mushrooms when it comes to its natural habitat. It prefers to grow on hardwoods and dying wood in a parasitic condition. Specifically, it grows in elms, beech, cottonwoods, and maple, among other trees.
H. tessulatus can also grow in other substrates, such as wood chips and sawdust beds. This is a popular way to cultivate them on your own—although be aware that you may need to inoculate the substrate deliberately (1).
L. shimeji has similar growth conditions, although it has a stronger preference for other types of trees. Experts point out that this species is mostly present in mixed forests that house jolcham oaks and Japanese red pines (2).
Given their many medicinal and nutritional benefits, mushrooms are becoming one of the main targets of amateur harvesters. However, it’s crucial to keep some ethical guidelines in mind before going on your mushroom-picking adventure.
Wildcrafting differs from foraging in that the latter refers to taking natural resources for food. Wildcrafting, instead, deals with harvesting mushrooms and herbs for medicinal purposes.
But more importantly, ethical wildcrafting adds an ecological and conscious layer to harvesting. Picking mushrooms without regard for the environment can seriously damage your nearest ecosystems. As such, you should always try to respect these guidelines:
If it’s your first time practicing ethical wildcrafting, we recommend looking for local harvesting groups that can teach you how to do it. And always remember to consult with a pro before taking anything you harvest.
There aren’t any known poisonous lookalikes for H. tessellatus. L. shimeji, however, does look very similar to L. loricatum—a toxic species that grows in similar places. For this reason, be sure to always carry a field guide to tell them apart (4).
It’s also important to remember that wild mushrooms may contain dangerous toxins from the environment. Always wash them thoroughly before eating—and always remember to cook them.
There isn’t a specific way to take shimeji mushrooms. All of these species can be used in hundreds of different recipes — either on their own or in combination with other mushrooms. The only indication is not to eat them raw and to wash them thoroughly.
Like with most fungi, the culinary possibilities of shimeji mushrooms are endless. A stir-fry that contains shimeji and other fungi, vegetables, and soy sauce can be the perfect entry point for people new to shimeji. Adding shimeji mushrooms to stews and soups (including miso) is also a popular choice.
If you’re a vegetarian looking for meat substitutions, you could also try to sauté shimeji fungi in olive oil either on their own or with other mushrooms like shiitake and enoki. This makes for the perfect side dish to accompany any salad or light food. You can also check out some new shimeji mushroom recipes to see what works for you.
Shimeji mushrooms encompass several species of Asian fungi. Known for their delicious flavor, they have become a centerpiece of Japanese cuisine. Better still, they also offer potential health benefits, making them an excellent addition to any diet.
If you want to find out about other types of mushrooms, keep up on shroomer. Here, you’ll find all the details you need about psychedelic and functional fungi from all over the world, along with the latest news on medicinal research on edible mushrooms.