Tag Archives: functional food

Lion’s Mane – For your health and taste buds

Lion’s Mane – Hericium erinaceus is a fascinating mushroom that goes 320px-Igelstachelbart_Hericium_erinaceusby a lot of common names including monkey’s head, sheep’s head and bearded tooth.  In Japan it is called yamabushitake, loosely translated as “those who sleep in the mountains”, named after the Yamabushi monks who live high in the Omine mountain range.  Lion’s mane can be found on dead/dying oak, beech, maple and other deciduous trees and are usually found in the wild during the latter part of the summer and early fall.  It is an unusual looking mushroom shaped like a pompom with long, pure white cascading tendrils that carry its spores and turns brown as it ages.

Lion’s mane has been a staple in Chinese medicine for centuries and was thought to “give nerves of steel and the memory of a lion” to those who ingested it.  For years Buddhist monks have consumed this mushroom in the form of a tea to heighten their focus during meditation and enhance their brain power.  Recent studies have demonstrated that lion’s mane has the capacity to improve cognitive ability and strengthen memory and concentration explaining the increased awareness experienced by these monks.  Lion’s mane is considered a super food due to its many health benefits including its neuroregenerative properties.

When neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s occur, the brain is incapable of producing its own internal source of nerve growth factors (NGF), a protein that is essential for the maintenance and growth of nerve cells.  Whereas NGFs are also produced elsewhere in the body, the semi-permeable sheath that surrounds the brain (blood-brain barrier) prevents them from entering this area.  Research has shown that two compounds unique to lion’s mane, hericenones and erinacines are small enough to pass through the blood-brain barrier and stimulate the brain to produce its own NGF, thereby boosting production of new nerve cells.  Erinacines compound have been called “the most powerful NGF inducers of all natural compounds” and has proven effective in improving muscle-motor response pathways in Parkinson’s patients and repair neurological trauma in stroke victims.

In addition to improving cognitive ability and memory, lion’s mane has been used by herbalists in conjunction with medicinal herbs to treat Lyme’s disease, specifically the Borrelia bacteria that causes neurocognitive deficit in the brain.  It appears that because compounds in lion’s mane can pass through the blood brain barrier, it releases the bacteria into the blood stream where it can be treated more effectively.  Separately, studies have shown that Lion’s mane can elevate one’s mood and alleviate anxiety, helpful when treating individuals suffering from depression.  It has also been used for centuries in Chinese medicine to maintain good colon health and improve a host of digestive disorders including stomach ailments, gastritis, duodenal ulcers, and esophageal cancer.

Gastronomically, Lion’s mane has a subtle seafood-like flavor, reminiscent of lobster and crab, which is intensified when slowly cooked in butter.  It is great sautéed on its own in olive oil with garlic and shallots or poached in a butter and white wine reduction sauce.  It complements fish dishes wonderfully and is a great substitute for meat in pasta.  To avoid getting a bitter taste, it is important to cook this mushroom slowly allowing the edges to turn a crispy brown then letting the liquids evaporate before adding in any flavorful moisture back.

Lion’s Mane/King Crab Spread: (courtesy Fungi.com and edited)


3 King Crab legs
7 medium cloves garlic
Juice of ½ lime
¼ medium red onion
1 tsp Italian Seasoning
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp Celestial Seasonings Creole Spice
1 tsp ground chipotle pepper
2 heaping Tbsp sour cream
2 heaping Tbsp cream cheese
¼ medium tomato
½ – ¾ lb Lion’s Mane mushrooms

Steam crab legs then extract the crab meat from the shells and set aside.  Slice the Lion’s mane into discs and sauté in butter in an iron skillet over medium-high heat.  Place the remaining ingredients in a food processor and quick-chop for approximately 30 seconds.  Add in mushrooms and crab and process for another minute.

Note from fungi.com: If you want to really send this recipe over the top, consider adding some fresh parmesan or goat cheese to it as well.

Source: superfoods-for-superhealth.com, foursigmafoods.com, Mycelium Running Paul Stamets, Beneficialbotanicals.com, fungi.com

Terrafunga does not offer medical advice.  Readers should seek medical advice from a licensed physician or other qualified health professional and not rely on information they may gather from secondary sources such as the internet.


Oyster Mushrooms and Heart Health

February is Heart Health month bringing awareness to heart Do you love mushrooms?disease, the leading cause of death in the United States with 900,000 deaths annually.  The risk of cardiovascular disease can be greatly reduced by making a few lifestyle adjustments that include relaxation techniques, a wholesome diet and exercise.

Heart disease is the result of restricted blood flow to vital organs and tissues in the body due to damaged artery walls and plaque build-up.  Cholesterol plaque can begin forming on the artery walls as early as childhood and progress slowly as we age.  A heart attack or stroke usually occurs when a piece of plaque breaks off the artery wall or a blood clot forms on the plaque’s surface resulting in blockage.

Although scientists have not pinpointed the exact cause of plaque build-up, researchers believe that it is primarily the result of smoking, high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol levels.  Other contributing factors exist however including obesity, diabetes, stress, minimal consumption of fruits and vegetables, excessive alcohol intake and lack of physical activity.  The good news is that many of these behaviors can be modified to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

One of the easiest modifications to help prevent plaque development is through good nutrition and exercise.  Adding Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) to your diet is a great way to start.  These gourmet mushrooms are widely cultivated, readily available in grocery stores and online and can be added (cooked) to many recipes from soups to stews, salads and meats and even desserts!  These mushrooms are packed with nutrients and are especially high in antioxidants, have little effect on blood sugar levels and are low in calories.

Oyster mushrooms have a natural cholesterol reducing effect similar to lovastatin, a synthesized drug that treats patients with excessive blood cholesterol and is known to lower the risk of heart attacks and strokes.  These mushrooms have been widely studied for their effect on modulating blood cholesterol levels including a study done in 2004 by the National Institute of Health with HIV patients.  Patients were given a tea made from dried Oyster mushrooms and though some participants did not complete the study complaining that the concoction did not taste good, there was enough evidence to conclude that Oyster mushrooms had the ability to reduce triglycerides and LDL cholesterol in these patients.

In a separate 2003 animal study published in Clinical and Experimental Pharmacology and Physiology, scientists added Oyster mushrooms to the diet of rats and discovered that it reduced plasma total cholesterol by @28% (“bad” LDL cholesterol was reduced by 55%, triglycerides by 34% and “good” cholesterol increased by 21%).  They concluded that adding Oyster mushrooms to a daily diet can prevent plaque from forming in arteries of patients with high cholesterol levels.

Oyster mushrooms, like other gourmet fungi, are a functional food meaning that they have healing and health promoting benefits and can be consumed daily without issue.  Cooked, these mushrooms are an important source of fiber, protein, vitamins and other essential nutrients that contribute to a healthy lifestyle.  100g (@ 1 cup) of Oyster mushrooms has only 43 calories, 0g of fat, 2.3g of fiber and 3g of protein.

The following describes some of the important nutrition value these mushrooms provide and their contribution to a healthy heart:

  • Niacin (Vitamin B3) – Oyster mushrooms have five times the amount of this vitamin compared to most vegetables. Niacin helps metabolize carbohydrates, fats and proteins and repairs damaged DNA.  This vitamin boosts memory, improves skin conditions, helps with arthritis and assists in maintaining good blood circulation.  Niacin contributes to heart health by lowering “bad” cholesterol and raising “good” cholesterol levels.
  • Vitamin D – One cup of Oyster mushrooms provides 103 IU (International units) of Vitamin D, about 17% of the recommended daily allowance. Mushrooms are one of the only food sources that produce its own Vitamin D (see Terrafunga blog Mushrooms: Natural source of Vitamin D).  Our bodies need Vitamin D to absorb calcium, regulate the genes that influence growth and boost our immune system. Vitamin D contributes to heart health by lowering blood pressure.
  • Antioxidants – Oyster mushrooms are one of the few natural sources of ergothioneine, an amino acid that lowers systemic inflammation. The benefits of ergothioneine include improved cognitive function, eye health, immune modulation, lung, skin and reproductive health. 3 oz. of Oyster mushrooms provides 13mg of ergothioneine.  Antioxidants contribute to heart health by preventing the build-up of plaque in the arteries.
  • Thiamine (Vitamin B1) – Improves energy by converting carbohydrates into glucose. It helps the body withstand stressful situations, boost the immune system and maintain a healthy nervous system. Thiamine contributes to heart health by increasing the production of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine that ensures proper cardiac function.
  • Pyridoxine (Vitamin B6) – Helps in the production of neurotransmitters, supports the immune system, maintains lymph node health and improves carpel tunnel syndrome, anemia, muscular sclerosis and influenza. In addition Vitamin B6 is helpful for those suffering from premenstrual syndrome, arthritis and depression.  Pyridoxine contributes to heart health by lowering the levels of homocysteine in the blood thereby reducing the risk of heart disease.
  • Dietary Fiber – Fiber stimulates digestion, relieves indigestion and constipation. In addition, fiber nurtures the lining of the colon and aids in the absorption of glucose.  Studies have shown that there is a correlation between low fiber diets and heart disease and that dietary fiber may help reduce the risk factors for strokes such as high blood pressure, high blood levels of “bad” cholesterol.  The American Heart Association recommends an intake of 25g of fiber daily and a cup of Oyster provides 9% of that total.   Dietary fiber contributes to heart health by lowering the risk of first time strokes.
  • Potassium – This mineral is important in maintaining water balance in the body as well as strong bones, build protein and enhance muscle strength. Potassium helps with anxiety and stress as well as kidney and heart disorders. The recommended daily value for potassium is 3.5g and 1 cup of Oyster mushrooms provides 12% of the daily intake.  Potassium contributes to heart health by lowering blood pressure, lowering “bad” cholesterol and regulating proper heart rhythm.
  • Copper – Copper is essential to our bodies as it maintains the health of connective tissues, increases our energy, helps metabolize iron and increases the production of red blood cells. In addition, copper supports good eye and hair health, reduces symptoms of arthritis and helps prevent premature aging.  Copper contributes to heart health by reducing “bad” cholesterol production and influences the functioning of the heart and arteries.

Oyster mushrooms offer many more nutritional benefits to maintain good health.  We focused on nutrients that specifically enhance cardiovascular health given that it is Heart Health month. To get you started, we have posted a great good-for-heart recipe: Roasted Oyster Mushrooms and Red Quinoa Salad.  Enjoy!


Sources: Mycomedicinals, Paul Stamets (2002), National Institute of Health, NCBI.nlm.nih.gov, heart.org, nutritiondata.self.com, healthyeating.sfgate.com, diethealthclub.com, healthiestfoods.com, organicfacts.net

Terrafunga does not offer medical advice. Readers should seek medical advice from a licensed physician or other qualified health care professional and not rely on information they may gather from secondary sources such as the internet.



As 2015 begins, full of hope and excitement for most of us, I am always intrigued by what upcoming food trends will be the rage in the New Year, what fad will simply disappear and where the culinary imagination of Master Chefs will take us.

Here is a brief summary of what the “experts” in the gastronomic field tell us will be hot in 2015:

  • CAULIFLOWER – It appears that this once maligned vegetable, thought to be a tasteless and worthless side could dethrone Kale as the new superfood due to its high fiber content, important levels of vitamin C and K and its anti-inflammatory properties.  Additionally it lends itself to a variety of cooking techniques including roasting, ricing and mashing making it a great, lower calorie substitute for potatoes.  Cauliflower can be found in a variety of color from orange to purple adding interesting hues to a meal.
  • ROOT VEGETABLES – Although we are accustomed to carrots, beets and ginger, there are many unfamiliar and “ugly” root vegetables that are now readily available in most grocery stores that are packed with nutrients and vitamins. Celery root, parsnips, kohlrabi, turnips and rutabaga can be roasted, grated, mashed, puréed, sautéed and in some instances eaten raw. The flavors vary from subtle to earthy and are a great alternative to potatoes.
  • PISTACHIOS – Whether spurred on by the clever “Get Crackin’”advertising campaign from Paramount Farms Intl. or a push by pistachio growers, this little nut is predicted to be the star of 2015. California is the second largest producer of pistachios in the world with over 500 million pounds harvested annually.   Recent data shows that this nut contains fewer calories than other nuts and packs more potassium and Vitamin K.  Pistachios are an important source of proteins, fats and minerals and an excellent source of antioxidants and vitamin E.
  • OYSTERS – With an increase in harvest due to cleaner waters, oysters will be more available and affordable in 2015. The Kusshi oyster from British Columbia will be all the rage due to its small size and clean flavor. Aside from the traditional cocktail sauce, oysters will be served with interesting brines and new sauces adding to their fascination.  $1 oysters are appearing in all restaurant types including the fastcas (new buzzword for fast casual) establishments that are introducing younger diners to these tasty indulgences.
  • INSECTS – Deep fried locust and other insects have been part of Asian cooking for centuries and are slowly making their way into western cuisine as seen on menus of some of the finest European restaurants. Top restaurants are serving such exotic fares as beef tartare with ants, pâté with a side of crickets and chocolate covered locusts! A healthy source of protein (ounce for ounce crickets have more than twice the protein of meat) crickets are also high in magnesium, calcium, iron and Vitamin B12.  Insects may also find their way into your food as powders or incorporated into protein bars.
  • SAVORY YOGURTS – Whereas the Greek yogurt trend continues, lower sugar alternatives are in our future. Substituting the familiar fruit flavors with hearty vegetables seems to be catching on.  One company already on the market offers butternut squash flavors as well as beet, tomato and carrots, while other specialty shops include exotic seasoning mixins such as Za’atar, sea salt and “everything bagel”. Savory yogurt makes a great alternative for mayonnaise.
  • FERMENTED VEGETABLES – Fermenting food is an age-old process practiced by ancient civilizations to enhance and preserve foods. The fermentation process results in a superior food high in enzymes that improves nutrient absorption benefiting the colon and the entire digestive tract.  Fermented foods we will see more of in 2015 include Kimchi (Korean vegetable side dish), Kombucha (mushroom tea), Tempeh (bean cake), Miso (bean and grain paste) and sauerkraut (fermented cabbage).
  • MAPLE WATER – Experts predict Maple water will replace coconut water as the beverage of choice for the health conscious consumer. The drink is not maple syrup diluted with water but rather a naturally occurring liquid harvested from maple trees in late winter.  Whereas maple syrup is sap that undergoes an evaporation process, maple water does not, resulting in water with a hint of maple.  Unlike coconut water that comes from overseas, maple water is considered a local product currently manufactured in New York and Vermont.
  • ANCIENT GRAINS AND SEEDS – Gluten free diet trends will continue in 2015 and as a result so will alternatives to wheat. Ancient grains such as quinoa and seeds like chia are becoming more mainstream today, but ‘new’ varieties will become more prominent in the coming year.  These include:  whole grain Teff, traditional Ethiopian grain, Kaniwa, a seed similar to quinoa originally from the Andes, Amaranth, Freekeh, Lupin, Spelt and Kamut amongst others.
  • SEAWEED – Though we are familiar with seaweed in our sushi, varieties such as kelp, nori and wakame are set to transition into our salads, risottos, soups, sauces and beverages in 2015. A craft beer company in Maine is infusing its beer with organic seaweed, the Scots have been serving pizza with locally harvested seaweed and the Brits are chomping on seaweed chocolate! Seaweed is an excellent source of calcium, is packed with anti-oxidants and a broad range of vitamins, but most importantly it is one of the few natural sources of iodine.
  • SPICY HONEYS – Pairing sweet and spicy continues in 2015 with particular emphasis on honey. Honey with habanero peppers, ghost chili and jalapeños are trending in restaurants as are spicy jams and jellies paired with meats and poultry. A renowned pizzeria in Brooklyn, NY is spreading chili honey on its soppressata pizza and is getting rave reviews from discerning local connoisseurs.

In addition to the aforementioned trends, culinary themes for 2015 will benefit local farmers such as Terrafunga that produce organically grown produce in a sustainable fashion.  Restaurant chefs are looking for food waste reduction in their establishments, hyper-sourced, natural ingredients, environmentally sustainable products, farm-branded items and artisan foods.  Gluten free cuisine will continue its emergence as will locally-grown produce.

All of these trends and cuisines bode well for Terrafunga, seeing that our mushrooms, fresh or dried, provide a host of health benefits, are naturally grown and benefit all diets including those that are gluten free.  We’re looking forward to a healthy and great year!

Sources: newrepublic.com, Alice Robb, baumwhiteman.com, 2015 food trends, restaurant.org, National Restaurant Association, www.nutrition-and-you.com/pistachio.html, men’shealth.com/nutrition/crickets-perfectprotein, superfoods-for-superhealth/fermented-foods.

Mushrooms: Natural Source of Vitamin D

During the winter, many of us living in Northern climes have shorterMaitake7 days and less exposure to sunlight meaning a decreased ability to manufacture our own Vitamin D.  Vitamin D plays an important role in our well-being; essential for healthy bone growth, neuromuscular and immune functions, as well as reduction of inflammations and prevention of respiratory infections.

Vitamin D is synthesized in our bodies when skin is exposed to UV rays from sunlight, though age, the amount of time spent in the sun, melanin levels in the skin and sunscreen application can affect absorption levels.  Vitamin D can also be obtained by consuming certain foods rich in the vitamin, though the natural options are limited to oily fish, beef liver, eggs and fortunately mushrooms.  There are also fortified foods that can be consumed such as milk, cereal, orange juice, yogurt and margarine as well as dietary supplements.  Mushrooms are the only produce that contain vitamin D naturally and thus should become of every diet.

The following is an abbreviated list comparing the amount of Vitamin D in food we consume (measured in International Units (IU))demonstrating the important levels mushrooms contain.  Fruits and vegetable are not featured in this chart since none contain vitamin D and though fortified, ready-to-eat cereals do contain vitamin D, they are high in sugar and low in nutritional value and hence were not included. The entire list can be viewed on the USDA website.

Maitake 1123
Chanterelle 212
Morel 206
Shiitake 154
Oyster 22
Portobello, exposed to UV light 524
Sockeye salmon 526
Mackerel 457
Swordfish 666
Tuna fish, canned, in oil 269
Pork spare ribs 104
Bacon, reduced sodium 42
Salami, dried 62
Beef bologna 32
Milk, whole, fortified 420
Yogurt, fortified 52
Egg, fried 88
Margarine, fortified 429
American cheese, fortified 301

 *extracted from the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference release 27

Vitamin D promotes the absorption of calcium essential for healthy bone growth preventing them from becoming brittle, thin and/or misshapen.  Lack of Vitamin D can cause rickets in children and osteoporosis in adults, two conditions that can be prevented.  Additionally, studies suggest that Vitamin D may affect cancer risk.  Though still inconclusive, there is strong evidence that vitamin D has protective effects on certain cancers including breast and prostate, though the most promising results came from research involving patients with colon cancer.  More recently, there has been evidence that Vitamin D could play a role in the prevention and treatment of Type 1 and 2 diabetes as well as MS and hypertension.  Lastly, a study conducted at Cambridge University concluded that increased Vitamin D in the body increased the preventive effect against influenza by boosting the bodies’ immune levels.  NB Excessive levels of vitamin D can also be harmful to the body.

People at greater risk of Vitamin D deficiency include growing children, darker skinned individuals, overweight persons and the elderly.  Children need calcium for bone development and tend to be protected against direct exposure to sunlight, dark skin contains more melanin which is less effective in producing vitamin D from sunlight, obese individuals sequester vitamin D in fat preventing its release into other parts of the body and the elderly have skin that doesn’t synthesize efficiently and are inclined to stay indoors more often.

Vitamin D deficiency can be reversed by consuming foods rich in this nutrient.  The Dietary Guidelines for Americans put forth by the federal government recommend that nutrients should be obtained from foods.  Although dietary supplements are valuable, vitamins obtained from natural foods have added health benefits that can help the body function properly and boost the immune system.  Mushrooms that naturally produce vitamin D should become part of every diet.


Sources: Journal of Virology2008 –  review on The Epidemiology of influenza, National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements, Vitamin D Facts sheet for professionals, Facts sheet for consumers, USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference release 27, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, The Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 

Terrafunga does not offer medical advice. Readers should seek medical advice from a licensed physician or other qualified health care professional and not rely on information they may gather from secondary sources such as the internet.

BLENDABILITY: Adding mushrooms to ground meat makes a healthier meal

Photo courtesy of mushroominfo.com
Photo courtesy of mushroominfo.com

There’s a new buzz word in the nutrition world: Blendability.  It is essentially a process in which cooked, chopped mushrooms are added to meats to make meals healthier by lowering calories, sodium and saturated fats without sacrificing taste. Adding mushrooms also provides some important nutrients such as Vitamin D, B vitamins, antioxidants and potassium.

In 2010, as a response to the ever growing obesity crisis in the US, the US Dietary Guidelines for Americans were amended recommending that a shift in food consumption be made to a more plant-based diet.  The difficulty in making such a change was that for many people following these guidelines was unrealistic since these new food groups were unfamiliar to them, unappealing and in many cases too expensive. In addition, students in schools across the country were staying away from new, healthy alternatives deeming them bland and unappetizing.

Earlier this year, the US Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry converged in Washington to sample culinary products brought to them from various states with the intent to modify the school nutrition programs. One of the products offered was a “blended” meatball made of half ground beef and half mushrooms which was billed as being healthier, cost effective and appealing to students.  It appears as though school districts are adopting this method of cooking whether on site or preordered and that students don’t seem to notice the difference in the familiar offerings.  The first school district to adopt blendability was Cincinnati, OH using the process for their lasagnas, tacos, pasta sauces and meatballs.

For the typical household, blendability has its merits as well by stretching recipes using a less expensive but healthier component.  Mushrooms are the perfect ingredient for this process due to its flavor-enhancing properties and its compatibility with meats in particular. A recent study published in the September issue of the Journal of Food Science tested the effect of mushrooms on meat based dishes and concluded that “because of their flavor-enhancing umami principles, mushrooms can be used as a healthy substitute for meat and a mitigating agent for sodium reduction in meat-based dishes without loss of overall flavor”.  Umami is considered the fifth taste after sweet, sour, bitter and salty giving us a savory, brothy, rich and meaty taste sensation.

Bringing blendability to the dinner table has only upsides: affordability, enhanced taste, lower calories, decreased sodium and healthier diet.  To start blending your recipes, simply substitute 50% of the ground meat (beef, pork, turkey, chicken) called for in your recipe with any chopped mushrooms such as crimini, shiitake, or portobello.  White mushrooms mix in best with turkey and chicken due to their light color, though any  mushrooms will do.

How to:
1 lb meat and 1 lb mushrooms
Finely chop mushrooms in a food processor to resemble the texture and consistency of the ground meat used in the recipe.  Sauté mushrooms in 1-2 tablespoon of oil over medium heat until brown and liquids have evaporated (@ 7-8 minutes), stirring occasionally.  Season with salt and pepper and put aside.  Brown meat in the same pan until cooked through, then add the cooked mushrooms and mix thoroughly.  Continue with the rest of the recipe.


Sources:  Myrdal Miller, A., Mills, K., Wong, T., Drescher, G., Lee, S.M., Sirimuangmoon, C., Schaefer, S., Langstaff, S., Minor, B. and Guinard, J.-X. (2014), Flavor-Enhancing Properties of Mushrooms in Meat-Based Dishes in Which Sodium Has Been Reduced and Meat Has Been Partially Substituted with Mushrooms. Journal of Food Science, 79: S1795–S1804. doi: 10.1111/1750-3841.12549.  American Mushroom Institute. “Mushroom blendability makes meals better”.  Mushroom info.com.