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Asian mushrooms (Japanese foods in history)

Many mushrooms that are originally from the Far East are not only available dried and canned but can also be found fresh in produce markets the world over. Perhaps the best known of these - and certainly the most available - is the Japanese brown mushroom or shiitake (Cortinellus shiitake). Once grown only in Japan by introducing spores to a local type of oak tree, this mushroom is now cultivated in the United States - on artificial logs.

The shiitake is umbrella-like in shape, brown to black in color, and firmly textured; it has an assertive flavor that goes well in sautes. Its cousin, the Chinese black mushroom (Lentinus edodes), is actually brown to pale buff in color. Known as the "winter mushroom" in China (as is the shiitake, which is also grown there), it is like most other mushrooms in that its flavor intensifies with drying.

The enokitake (Flammulina velutipes), or somtimes just enoki (their home is on the stumps of the Chinese hackberry tree called enoki), are slender mushroom stalks with small bulbs at the top, which grow in clumps and reach upwards of 5 inches in length. Their delicate flavor is called for in many Asian dishes, but they are best appreciated when eaten raw in salads. Enokitake mushrooms are now cultivated in California. Another cultivated mushroom is the straw mushroom (Volvariella volvacea) that is small, globe-shaped, and grown on straw, from which it develops its distinctive earthy taste. These are only occasionally found fresh, and never dried, but are universally available in cans.

Rarely found outside of Japan is the matsutake (Armillaria edodes), a thick, meaty, and delicious mushroom that is very popular there and also very expensive. A final Asian fungus is the cloud-ear fungus (Auricularia auricula and A. polytrica), better known in the United States as "wood ear" but also a "tree ear," "Jew's-ear," and "black tree fungus." The cloud-ear fungus is highly regarded for supposed medicinal properties (it does seem to thin the blood) by the Chinese, who have also incorporated it into their cuisine for at least 1,500 years. It is found mostly in Asian markets in the United States.

See also:

More History of Japanese foods

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Publication information

Excerpted from

The Cambridge World History of Food

by Kenneth F. Kiple and Kriemhild Conee Ornelas

Copyright Cambridge University Press 2000

This book is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place without the written permission of Cambridge University Press.

ISBN 0 521 40216 6

1,958 pages

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