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The cremini mushroom (scientific name Agaricus bisporus) is an edible species that emerges on grasslands in Europe and North America, part of the basidiomycete fungi. Young cremini mushrooms can be either white or brown; as a result they have a number of different names. At maturity, cremini mushroom is known as the portobello mushroom, or as portobello, portabello or portabella. Immature specimens are named portobellini or portabellini.
This species is among the most popular cultivated mushrooms in the world, it is farmed and consumed in many countries of several continents.
Under the Latin name Agaricus bisporus, this fungus is part of the larger Agaricaceae family. Cremini mushroom is easily identified from the color, which is similar to coffee. The cremini mushrooms have a special and delicate taste that makes them popular all around the world. Even since ancient times, the species was consumed and mentioned in legends and myths. In some countries, people believed that eating cremini mushrooms could increase one’s physical strength and grant special powers.
The wild varieties have a light brown or grey cap (pileus), covered by wide scales. The color fades close to the edges of the cap. When young, the cremini mushrooms look like small hemispheres. At maturity, they grow to a diameter of 5 to 10 cm, with a flattened shape. Underside grills are rather narrow and congested. They start with a pink color but later turn red and eventually dark brown, while cheilocystidia makes their edges white. The stipe grows up to 6 cm high and 1-2 cm wide, with a classic cylindrical shape and a narrow ring that is sometimes streaked. Flesh is usually white and firm but any bruises give it a pink or red color, while spore pints are dark brown. Spores are too small to be seen, about 4.5-5.5µ × 5-7.5µ;m with an oval or round shape. Two-tetrasporic specimens have been reported both in the Mediterranean Basin and the Mojave Desert but most spores have a two-spored basidia. The unusual specimens have heterothallic and homothallic lifestyles.
Pastures and other grassy areas all over the world host this species between late spring and autumn, after periods of rain. It is especially found in locations where there is manure on the ground. It is one of the easiest mushrooms to identify and even people who don’t usually hunt for mushrooms collect it as food.
French botanist Joseph Pitton de Tournefort was the first to describe the commercial cultivation of cremini mushroom in scientific terms in the year 1707. Another Frenchman, agriculturist Olivier de Serres noticed that the easiest way to propagate the cremini mushrooms was to transplant their mycelia.
Cultivation of cremini mushrooms was very difficult at first. The growers waited for sizeable mushroom harvests in fields, then collected their mycelium. They tried to replant it in a layer of composted manure or various mixtures of manure, garbage and loam. It was poorly understood at that time that mushrooms cultivated in this manner were infected from the start. The pathogens could make them become sick or just die very fast. The Pasteur Institute in Paris only discovered how to obtain pure culture spawns in 1893. These sterilized mushrooms could be reliably cultivated on composted horse manure.
All of the mushrooms grown today come from a wild variety that used to have a light brown cap. A mushroom farmer discovered a cluster of common mushrooms with white caps in his harvest in 1926. Similar to white bread, these were considered to be cleaner and immediately became more attractive and popular than the brown ones. The mutated mushrooms were multiplied and distributed all around the world and the random spawn from 1926 is the ancestor of most of the cultivars found today in stores. This was a similar story to the chance mutations that created the Red Delicious apple and the navel orange.
All species of mushrooms are known to be rich in bioactive compounds that can reduce the risk of cancer. Numerous tests have revealed that eating more mushrooms inhibits the growth of tumours by hampering cancer cell proliferation, with no known downsides. Due to their low cost, mushrooms are some of the most accessible anti-cancer foods.
Cremini mushrooms have a content of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). This appears to be a strong anti-cancer agent, which reduces the multiplication of mutated cells and keeps tumour size under control.
Mushrooms are pretty much the only food source for ergothioneine (EGT), an essential amino acid that provides a series of health benefits. This bioactive compound is able to shield cells from various sources of harm and its antioxidant and cytoprotective effects have been proven by scientists.
This chemical is also beneficial for heart health. It can balance cholesterol levels, reduce cardiovascular inflammation and repair damage to blood vessels. It also maintains the health of the red blood cells and protects from liver damage or diabetes, the widespread modern disease. Its anti-inflammatory properties also act at the level of other internal organs, such as the brain, lungs or kidneys.
Humans have used mushrooms since the beginning of history for their tonic and energizing effects. They can boost immune reaction, restore fatigue and treat weakness. Shiitake, cordyceps and reishi mushrooms are the most effective but even the common cremini mushrooms share some of these effects. They provide a number of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds, which boost the body’s ability to resist cold, flu and other common infections. The exact mechanism is not fully understood but preliminary research results show they increase the production of cytokines, which are a key element of the defence system against pathogens.
Even if they are a fungus, mushrooms are as rich in B vitamins as vegetables. They supply a combination of these essential nutrients, especially riboflavin (vitamin B2), niacin (vitamin B3) and pantothenic acid (vitamin B5). The most useful of these seems to be vitamin B5, which is heavily involved in the metabolic processes that convert the food we eat into energy, especially fats and carbohydrates. It is also needed by the brain, along with other B vitamins and some minerals. It prevents mental fatigue and regulates cognitive processes.
An increased intake of B vitamins is known to improve several mental functions. It prevents headaches, reduces the risk of chronic brain syndrome, depression, motion sickness or insomnia, as well as protects from the loss of memory caused by old age. Vitamin B3 also regulates blood pressure and cholesterol, while vitamin B2 treats migraines, mitigates PMS symptoms and prevents anemia, glaucoma and other eye problems.
Cremini mushrooms provide a big amount of antioxidant compounds, as well as copper, selenium and other essential nutrients. As a result, consuming cremini extracts can protect from oxidative stress, reduces inflammation and decreases the risk of developing the so-called leaky gut syndrome. Including them in your diet is good for the digestive tract in general and can prevent a number of serious conditions, such as fibrosis, ulcerative colitis, inflammatory bowel disease and even colon cancer.
While the human body doesn’t need large amounts of selenium, mushrooms are a rare source for this essential trace mineral that acts like an antioxidant agent. It is needed for the structure of selenoenzymes, selenoamino acids and selenoproteins, all of which reduce oxidative effects. They are especially effective in protecting the gut barrier.
A single cup of cremini mushrooms supplies about 10 percent of the daily required dose of potassium. This is one of the most important minerals inside the human body and the third most abundant by mass. Including cremini mushrooms in your daily diet is an effective way to make sure the levels of potassium never become too low. This mineral is not only directly involved in many body processes but it also regulates the level of sodium and other important nutrients.
Potassium plays numerous roles in the human body. Among the most important are a proper balance in blood pressure, strengthening of the bones, prevention of muscular cramps, faster fatigue recovery as well as the treatment of headache.
While cremini mushrooms are very rich in nutrients, their calorie content is low. No more than 21 calories are found in a serving; they can fill your stomach and provide a special taste without the risk of weight gain. The taste is considered to be smoky and savoury, pairing very well with vegetables. Due to the low content of calories, they are a very popular food choice for people who want to stay fit.
Just like fruits and vegetables, mushrooms provide a significant amount of dietary fibers. The actual fiber content is around 4%, which is a great percentage for a food that is tasty as well. Fibers give you a sensation of fullness and also regulate digestive processes.
Cremini mushrooms are also one of the few food sources of vitamin D, even if the actual amount is low. This vitamin is normally produced only inside the body, through the action of sunlight. It plays a key role in strengthening the bone system and also reduces the risk of serious diseases like multiple sclerosis or cancer.
Cremini mushrooms also provide an important dose of B vitamin complex, especially niacin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid and vitamin B6. These are deeply involved in many body functions and especially the metabolism of fats, carbohydrates and proteins. One serving supplies around 5% of the daily required B vitamin amount.
Another trace nutrient found in cremini mushrooms is zinc. This mineral is only needed in low amounts but many of our inner mechanisms use it. Too much zinc can have toxic effects so it is important to consume foods that provide the right amount, such as mushrooms. Zinc is critical for children, since it is required for their natural growth. It is also involved in many internal functions, for example regulation of our metabolic rate or the control of blood sugar levels. It directly reduces the extreme pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis and shields blood vessels from the destruction started by conditions such as atherosclerosis. Zinc is also needed by the immune system and increases its response, boosting the body’s defences against flu, cold and common infections. In addition, we need zinc for some of our senses, such as the smell or the taste.
Mushrooms are also a rich source of iron, which is a key mineral needed by our body. The lack of iron causes anemia and a general feeling of weakness. This essential mineral is required especially for the production of red blood cells, which transport oxygen from the lungs to every cell and tissue in the body. More iron, which is supplied by a diet that includes mushrooms, will increase the available energy levels.
Cremini mushrooms are also rich in selenium, a trace mineral that plays an important part in the fertility of both males and females. A proper supply of selenium can make a huge difference in the formation and viability of sperm, an effect that has been validated by modern studies. Selenium also boosts female fertility and libido. As a result, mushrooms are a great food choice for couples that plan to establish a family.
In addition, selenium works with vitamin E to form a strong antioxidant compound active in numerous reactions through the body. Glutathione peroxidase, which is one of the most important of all body antioxidants, also includes selenium in its composition. Selenium-based antioxidants are especially effective against colon cancer and can dramatically reduce the risk of this lethal disease. They can also treat heart diseases, arthritis and asthma.
Cremini mushrooms were also found to decrease estrogen dominance. This is a common condition for women who take oral contraceptive medication and it causes a number of unpleasant side effects such as strong mood swings, water retention or weight gain. Eating cremini mushrooms can inhibit aromatase, an enzyme that allows the hormone to flow to various parts of the body and influence its functions.
Even in ancient times, cremini mushrooms were considered to be a food of the Gods. They were known and praised by the Romans and Egyptians. Today, they are even more popular because of their antioxidant effects, since they protect tissues from harm and delay the effects of aging. Not only the antioxidant compounds but the trace minerals in their composition are also effective against the damage caused by dangerous free radicals.
Another important mineral found in mushrooms is cooper. We need it for the structure of hair and skin, as well as eye health. Copper has a positive overall health influence, since it is used to treat multiple diseases and is able to enter internal organs that need it. Cremini mushrooms are a great source of copper and a single serving provides almost half of the entire recommended daily value, which is very useful if you have a copper deficiency for example.
Cremini mushrooms also supply good amounts of calcium and iron, which are the two key building blocks of haemoglobin. This chemical is critical to life because oxygen can’t reach cells without it. They also provide pantothenic acid, a bioactive compound required by the adrenal glands that reduces the risk of fatigue.
Side effects and cautions
You should not consume cremini mushrooms if you suffer from either gout or kidney problems, in order to avoid a dangerous intake of compounds named purines. In large doses, purines can increase the build-up of uric acid in the body, which in turn amplifies the effects of these diseases.