Umami medicinal mushroom powder

umami

Everybody–well, everybody who has a cooking blog anyway–seems to be making “magic mushroom powder” these days. (Spoiler–not actually made from magic mushrooms. Sorry.) I never met a mushroom I didn’t love, so when I ran across a recipe for mushroom powder I decided I had to make my own version. I drew inspiration from this recipe and this one. The second version comes from the Nom Nom Paleo cookbook by Michelle Tam and Henry Fong. The first version uses shiitake mushrooms and oregano, the second one (which confusingly is chronologically first) uses porcini (also known as ceps) and thyme. Both also include salt, pepper, and chili flakes.

But not to be outdone, I came up with my own mushroom powder using what I had on hand. And here it is:

  • 1 oz dried mushrooms (I used 0.5 oz porcini, 0.4 oz shiitake, and 0.1 oz oyster mushrooms–measured by weight)
  • 3 tsp salt (I used Celtic sea salt)
  • 1 tsp sage
  • 1/2 tsp thyme
  • 1/2 tsp marjoram
  • 1/2 tsp black peppercorns
  • 1/4 tsp fennel

Put into a spice grinder or food processor and turn into powder. And done! Now put it on everything!

Why these ingredients?

I’m not quite sure why I added marjoram and sage, something just told me it would taste good if I did. I debated on the marjoram because the dried mushrooms have a powerful umami flavor (who needs MSG when you’ve got this stuff?) and I wanted to enhance that and thought the marjoram might be a little too aromatic. I actually get quite strong gut feelings sometimes when it comes to herbs, and usually it works out well when I obey. Having tasted the result in this case at least I’m convinced it was the way to go. As for the fennel, I’m actually not a big fan of fennel but I think that in small quantities it adds a certain extra deliciousness to spice blends, so in it went.

If you check out the linked recipes you will note that I kept the amounts of mushrooms and herbs the same. But those recipes call for a whopping 2/3 cup of salt. Now don’t get me wrong, I love me some salt. As a little kid I could often be found in the barn licking the horses’ salt licks. (True story.) But I’d rather start with too little salt and add a bit more to the food on the plate than to run the risk of oversalting the whole dish. So I started with only 3 tsp. And what do you know? That was actually plenty.

Any of these mushroom powders will add a powerful punch of umami (“pleasant savory taste”) to your food. The cool thing about it is that if you use a lot, you get a rich mushroom flavor; use a little and you get a subtle umami boost without being quite sure what that delicious mystery flavor is. So I’m not kidding when I say you can put it in/on everything.

Let food be thy medicine…

I believe the best way to regard food is not as a troublesome necessity that makes us fat and full of toxins, but as wholesome medicine that nourishes us and gives us pleasure. Obviously some kinds of  food are more nourishing and medicinal than others, though in general I think it’s a good idea to call a truce and make food our friend. But it’s always best when your food packs a real medicinal punch, and mushrooms, it turns out, are very good medicine.

All three species of mushrooms used here have been shown to lower cholesterol, boost the immune system when needed and calm it when it’s going crazy, prevent clogging of arteries, fight cancer by “activating” cancer destroying macrophages (especially breast and colon cancers), are full of bioavailable iron, copper, B vitamins, zinc, protein, fiber, and antioxidants, help your body produce Vitamin D, fight chronic inflammation, help stabilize blood sugar and metabolize fat, and support the adrenals  (source 1, source 2, source 3, source 4). Oyster mushrooms are also antibacterial.

NOTE: I keep seeing that oyster mushrooms (or a blend containing them such as this one) should be cooked at temps above 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius) in order to destroy a protein they contain called ostreolysin, which can be toxic. However, almost every case where I see this warning it is the exact same wording, cut and pasted from an unknown source. My opinion is, better safe than sorry, so I’ll add the powder before cooking; but I’ll need to see more evidence (or at least a proper citation) before I get my knickers in a twist over it, especially in the tiny quantities of oyster mushroom used in this powder.

ALSO NOTE: Most studies on the medicinal actions of these mushrooms were performed using extracts rather than whole mushrooms, and on lab rats rather than humans. The exact doses necessary to get a medicinal effect are not known (to me anyway), but whole food herbs are often effective in very small doses, especially when taken regularly.

Meanwhile, marjoram, sage, and thyme are all members of the mint family, possessing abundant stimulating aromatic oils which aid the digestion. Fennel and pepper are carminatives, and fennel in paricular reduces flatulence and stomach cramps.

So taken all together, this umami medicinal mushroom powder is not only savory but warming, nourishing, and immune boosting.

Next time I’ll give you a suggestion for how to use this mushroom powder (other than “put it on all the things”).

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