Mushrooms have a savory quality that is associated with protein—known as umami. Chef Instructor Bill Briwa teaches you how to take advantage of this flavor by incorporating them into your favorite recipes.
Mushrooms are not vegetables although they are often referred to as such. They are a unique plant food in that they are very low in carbohydrates because they can’t photosynthesize sugars.
The largest organism in the world is a mushroom. In Oregon, there is a honey mushroom that covers 2,400 acres of land—covering the area of 1,600 football fields.
Mushrooms have a savory quality that is associated with protein. The Japanese call this quality umami. If you’re only cooking vegetables, you might discover that you miss the savory flavor associated with animal protein. You can take advantage of the umami flavor inherent in mushrooms by incorporating mushrooms into the recipes that you cook.
The Taste of Umami: Our Fifth Taste
Although recognized and appreciated in ancient world cuisine for more than 2,000 years, the unique taste of umami was not identified as its own flavor until about 100 years ago.
This is a transcript from the video series The Everyday Gourmet: Cooking with Vegetables. Watch it now, on The Great Courses Plus.
In 1908, Professor Kikunae Ikeda of Tokyo Imperial University revealed a distinctive savory taste that became known as our fifth taste. He found this taste to be common across asparagus, tomatoes, cheese, and meat—something clearly distinct from sweet, sour, bitter and salty, our four established tastes.
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This discovery led to years of debate as to whether umami was its own separate unique taste or if it was simply an intensified version of one or more of the other four tastes. After years of research, it was proven that multiple taste receptors are implicated in the mechanism of umami taste, so it had been clearly defined that umami is an independent taste phenomenon.
The discovery of “umami” in foods led to the development of products and ingredients that duplicate that savory and appealing taste, creating a broader range of culinary options for consumers to enjoy.
Nutrition of Mushrooms
Mushrooms are again unique in that they contain Vitamin B12, something that vegetables can’t produce at all. Vegetarians who don’t eat any meat products may find this a useful way of getting this important nutrient. Nutritionally, mushrooms are also a good source of niacin—containing as much as in meat. Niacin helps body cells obtain energy from food. Mushrooms also contribute some dietary fiber and small amounts of many of the other B-complex vitamins including folate. (B vitamins are important for healthy cells and tissues and help the body use the energy from proteins, fats and carbohydrates). Mushrooms have virtually no fat and are therefore very low in kilojoules and like all vegetables they are a cholesterol free food.
100 grams, or 3.5 ounces, of raw mushrooms have only:
- 12 calories
- virtually no fat (0.2g)
- no cholesterol
- 2.3g protein
- 0.2g carbohydrate
- 93% water
- 6 mg sodium
- 18 µg folate
Make a Vegetable Pot Pie with Marvelous Mushrooms
Instead of chicken, this dish uses mushrooms to lend a meaty flavor to the traditional pot pie preparation.
- 1/2 cup shallots
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 1/4 lbs mushrooms
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/2 cup Marsala
- 1 quart mushroom stock
- 5 tsp butter
- 1 cup cream
- salt to taste
- pepper to taste
- 4 tsp butter or oil
- 1 shallot, diced
- 3 oz mushrooms
- 2 oz wine, sherry
- 1 branch of thyme
- 1 oz potatoes, diced and roasted
- 1 oz butternut squash, diced and roasted
- 1 oz turnips, diced and roasted
- 1 tsp parsley
- 4 oz puff pastry
- 1/2 oz egg wash
First, create a mushroom stock by adding shallots, whole cloves of garlic, mushrooms, and a bay leaf to a pot. Add sweet Marsala wine and cover with water. Put the pot on the stove and bring it to a boil. Then, reduce it to a simmer and cook for about an hour. When it’s done, press through a strainer, and you end up with a beautiful stock for a velouté (“velvet”) sauce, which is a stock that is thickened with flour and butter.
The way to tell that your roux is properly cooked is to take a small amount of the roux when it’s cooled and rub it between your thumb and forefinger. If it feels a little sandy, you’ve cooked it enough.
Make a roux, which is a thickening agent for the sauce. Melt butter in a pan. Then, add flour and stir until well combined and a little browned.
When you mix liquid into a roux, the liquid and roux should be at opposite temperature extremes. Add a little bit of cool stock into the hot roux. It will thicken almost immediately. Add more stock and break up any lumps that form with a whisk. Continue to add the rest of the stock until the mixture is smooth and almost liquid.
Turn this velouté into a cream sauce by adding cream to the pan. Taste and add salt and pepper. Bring it back up to a boil. Evaluate the consistency; the sauce should coat the back of a spoon.
Gather a variety of mushrooms. Melt the butter in a hot pan. While waiting for the pan to come up to temperature, dice the shallots. Once the butter stops sizzling, add the mushrooms to the butter in the pan. Also add a splash of wine. Brown the mushrooms on high heat. Add branches of thyme and the shallots to the pan.
Some of the mushroom juice will evaporate and leave a little bit of film on the bottom of the pan—what the French would call fond (“foundation”). Deglaze the fond with more wine. Add the rest of the wine and reduce until dry.
Add diced and roasted potatoes, butternut squash, and turnips (seasoned with salt and pepper and drizzled with oil) to the pan with the mushrooms and then turn off the heat. Remove the thyme.
Roll out and cut a round of puff pastry. Brush with egg wash (an egg that’s been beaten with about a tablespoon of water). Then, make a decorative design by dragging a fork across it one way and then the other. Place the rounds onto a greased pan and bake in the oven at about 400 degrees for about 10 to 12 minutes, until they puff up. Brush with egg wash (an egg that’s been beaten with about a tablespoon of water). Then, make a decorative design by dragging a fork across it one way and then the other. Place the rounds onto a greased pan and bake in the oven at about 400 degrees for about 10 to 12 minutes, until they puff up.
Add the sauce to the pan with the vegetables and heat until hot. Stir in parsley. Put the mixture in a serving bowl and set the cooked puff pastry on top.
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Common Questions About Mushrooms
Many mushrooms with white gills can be poisonous. There are a number of traits distinguishing various poisonous mushrooms, so picking them for food should be done carefully with someone who is an expert.