Enoki mushrooms are some of the most popular edible mushrooms in the world. They are cultivated and praised all around the globe for their special taste and interesting looks but are especially used in Asian cuisine, in particular in Japan. The recent rise of fusion cuisine has made enoki mushrooms available in many normal stores outside of Asia but they are always found in Asian specialty shops.
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The scientific name of the species is Flammulina velutipes. The first word comes from the Latin flammeus and means little flame, indicating the mushroom's color. The second word comes from Latin velutinus (covered in hairs) and pes (foot), because the stem base is hairy.
Enoki mushrooms are native to China, as well as neighbouring Korea and Japan. They have a distinctive long and thin shape, with small caps at the top.
Two varieties of enoki mushrooms exist but scientists consider them to be a single species. Due to a long period of human cultivation, wild mushrooms now taste different when compared to cultivars. These have been selected for improved flavour and look and many people consider them to be better than their wild relatives. Even if the taste of cultivars is stronger, both varieties are edible and considered to be delicious.
Wild mushrooms are known as enokitake or enokitaki because they grow naturally on decaying stumps of the enoki trees. They are also known under the alternative name of velvet foot mushrooms since they have a formation resembling velvet on the lower stem area. They have a gold or dark brown overall color. In Asian cuisine, they are usually consumed raw or after minimal cooking. They must be consumed quickly because they have a very short shelf life. Even if stored in a paper bag inside the refrigerator, they will not last more than a few days.
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The color of cultivated enoki mushrooms is white or cream, since they are grown indoors, in dark locations. Dedicated jars are used in order to force the enoki mushrooms to develop long stems, they basically have to reach the top of the jar in order to gain access to light. Due to their specific shape and color, enoki mushrooms are also known as snow puffs or golden needles.
Besides being very important as food, the enoki mushrooms have been considered for a long time to be an effective tonic and used for this purpose in traditional Asian medicine. Enoki mushroom has become the focus of many modern studies that aim to discover its chemical composition.
The phytochemicals inside enoki mushrooms are thought to greatly increase its medicinal and nutritional qualities. Like all mushrooms, enoki mushroom is a great source of powerful antioxidant compounds. It also provides a large dose of very healthy dietary fibers. Enoki mushrooms are able to decrease the level of cholesterol in the blood, due to their content of beta-glucan.
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Enoki mushrooms have strong antioxidant properties and are packed with nutrients. While the content of sodium and cholesterol is low, they are very rich in B vitamins like pantothenic acid, thiamine and niacin, as well as minerals such as calcium, copper, iron, selenium or potassium. They provide several amino acids that boost the human immune system, for example ergothioneine, valine and lysine. Traditional Chinese and Japanese medicine has made heavy use of the enoki mushroom for a very long time. It is known to reduce high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure and can treat liver diseases and stomach issues.
Enoki mushrooms are one of the few sources of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which is usually only found in meat. The type found in the mushrooms is considered to be as effective as the meat one in the reduction of body fat, which makes it excellent for weight loss diets.
Studies have discovered the action mechanism of linoleic acid. It can reduce visceral and gut fats by activating a number of enzymes that burn them. Enoki mushrooms are some of the best possible food choices if you aim to lose weight, due to the CLA content and low amount of calories.
In addition, the enoki mushrooms are rich in dietary fibers, which also assist with weight loss. They also have many other advantages, especially the reduction of cholesterol in the blood and improved digestion. Fibers also indirectly reduce weight by managing the amount of glucose in the blood. If fewer sugars are present in the blood stream, the amount that is converted into fats also decreases.
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Of course, the management of blood glucose levels provided by the fibers in enoki mushrooms is especially valuable for people who suffer from diabetes. The body can store fats as a result of high insulin levels after spikes in blood glucose. Fibers can break this mechanism and make insulin less reactive to the level of sugar, reducing the conversion into fat deposits. Basically, insulin no longer tells the body to store glucose as fats, greatly slowing down its assimilation. This has the additional benefit of reducing the risks for type 2 diabetes.
A well-known effect of consuming fibers is the regulation of digestive processes. A serving of 300 grams provides 12 grams of dietary fiber, between 30 and 50% of the daily intake recommended by the Institute of Medicine. Fibers make the stool more bulky and regulate bowel movements, preventing constipation and other similar issues.
Enoki mushrooms include a number of special amino acids that play a role in mental functions. These can boost memory and improve mental development at all ages. Researchers have found essential benefits provided by enoki mushrooms starting with intelligence development for kids, the memory of adults, as well as a slower mental decay for elders. Like most mushrooms, enoki mushroom also includes other bioactive compounds that have not been properly studied yet.
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Some of these might act against allergies, since the consumption of enoki mushrooms is known to treat allergic reactions like rhinitis, eczema or asthma. This is a very useful effect, especially if the root cause of the allergy is unknown.
Including enoki mushrooms in your daily diet is also good for the heart. It can greatly reduce the risk of coronary disease, lower the level of cholesterol, and prevent the rise of blood lipids and hyperlipidemia.
The compounds found in the enoki mushrooms also regulate nutrition and facilitate the absorption of useful substances from our food. This is accomplished by an overall boost in metabolic processes.
Enoki mushrooms have a very mild taste, with a slight fruity flavour. The first step in cooking them is rinsing, in order to remove any dirt and other impurities. Enoki mushrooms are usually grouped into thick clusters; the root bottom must be cut and discarded. It is possible to cook them in clumps but most chefs choose to separate them. In Asian cuisine, they are usually used as a raw or lightly cooked ingredient, in order to preserve as much of their taste as possible.
Enoki mushrooms are normally consumed fresh but some stores also stock them in canned form. This has the advantage to preserve the enoki mushrooms for several months. Fresh ones have a very short shelf life, they can start to develop mold after just a few days, so you must carefully inspect them when shopping.
There are many dedicated recipes for enoki mushrooms but you can simply add them to the food that you're cooking, for example on steaks, burgers, omelettes or fried fish. They are a great addition in salads, where you can just eat them raw. You can also add them as a side to any kind of main course dish, especially soups, stews or stir fried fusion recipes that are becoming very popular.
As a garnish, they pair very well with hot dishes and soups. Enoki mushrooms are rarely cooked because heat will give them a hard texture, add them right at the end if you plan to include them in a cooked meal. Enoki mushrooms work best when added raw in omelettes, risottos, curries or hot pots.
Besides their excellent taste, the enoki mushrooms can visually improve some recipes, for example various sushi or spring rolls. They pair the best with seafood, butter and Asian ingredients such as soba noodles, soy, ginger, lemongrass and other local spices.
Enoki mushrooms can be easily cultivated by imitating their natural habitat. They need shaded positions in temperate climates and will grow on various logs and stumps of hardwood trees. Some of the best species that can be used are oak, walnut, poplar, elm, alder, sweetgum, mulberry and persimmon. The best softwood option is aged Douglas fir.
Temperatures between from 35 and 55°F are needed for the mushroom to fruit. However, moderate amounts of snow do not prevent fruiting and even freezing is tolerated, since the mushrooms are known to resume growing afterwards.
Today, enoki mushrooms are mainly cultivated on supplemented sawdust indoors. It was the first mushroom to successfully cultivated on sawdust and it played a major role in the advances that allowed other species to also be grown in this way. Today, it is the 5th most cultivated species of mushroom in the world, even if it remains popular mainly on the Asian continent.
Enoki mushrooms should be avoided by people who have a weak stomach or spleen, due to various causes. These can include arthritis, chronic diarrhea, lupus erythematosus but also outbreaks of common cold.