Enoki Mushrooms: What Are They?

Enoki is an edible fungus that is especially popular in East Asian cuisine. Many people love the unique flavor and texture these mushrooms can add to a dish. Better still, they are nutritionally dense and have a range of potential health benefits.

Read on for our complete guide to enoki mushrooms, their therapeutic uses, and how to prepare them. We also outline possible issues with enoki mushrooms and potential side effects.

Enoki Mushroom Overview

Enoki, or enokitake, is the common name for the fungal species Flammulina velutipes. It is also known as winter mushroom, golden needle, velvet foot, or velvet shank.

These alternative names aptly describe the mushrooms’ growth habits and appearance. They fruit during the coldest months between October and May and have a long, velvety stipe (stalk) when mature. They are widespread across North America, Europe, and Asia and tend to grow on hardwood logs or trees.

enoki-mushroom-overview

Enoki is among the most popular and widely cultivated mushroom species worldwide. They are especially prevalent in Japanese and Chinese cuisine, where they are prized for their texture and taste. They also have an exceptional nutritional profile, being high in protein and fiber while low in calories and fat.

Interestingly, enoki was one of the first mushrooms to travel to space. In 1993, NASA sent samples into orbit onboard the space shuttle to test how they reacted to zero gravity. And scientific interest in enoki does not end there.

Researchers have been investigating enoki mushrooms’ biological activity and potential health benefits in recent years. In the next section, we discuss some of their most important findings to date.

Enoki Mushroom Benefits

According to a 2016 review, studies have demonstrated the following enokitake mushroom benefits:

  • Antimicrobial
  • Antioxidant
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Immunomodulatory
  • Anticancer
  • Hepatoprotective (protecting the liver)
  • Reducing blood pressure and cholesterol

Most existing research involves isolated cell lines or animals rather than humans. Therefore, large-scale clinical trials are necessary to confirm whether these benefits translate. However, enoki mushrooms contain a wealth of biologically active compounds, which are likely to have some effect.

One of the best-researched areas is how enoki mushrooms influence cholesterol and fat metabolism.

For example, a 2014 study found that feeding hamsters with enoki powder or extract significantly influenced cholesterol levels.

After eight weeks, the results showed that the animals receiving the highest dose had the lowest total cholesterol (TC), triacylglycerol, and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C).

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The researchers attributed these results to the mushrooms’ high dietary fiber content, antioxidant compounds, and a chemical called mycosterol. Experts have linked the latter to blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol reduction.

A 2018 study had somewhat similar results. Researchers fed mice a high-fat diet and administered enoki mushroom chitosan to some of the animals. The results indicated that, after six weeks, the mice in the enoki groups gained less weight than their untreated counterparts.

They also displayed reduced triglycerides, TC, and LDL-C, and increased high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C), which is widely considered healthy.

There is also a possibility that this mushroom could improve brain function. A study published in The International Journal of Biological Macromolecules investigated the impact of a combination of enoki and ginsenosides, compounds found in ginseng. The researchers found that pairing them led to potential improvement in the brain function of rats with Alzheimer’s.

Enoki Mushroom Nutrition Facts

Like most mushrooms, enoki are nutritional powerhouses. They are high-protein and contain a full range of essential amino acids and some non-essential ones. They also boast a generous dose of dietary fiber, which could benefit digestive health.

However, enoki mushrooms’ fiber content could be problematic for some, making them tough and somewhat difficult to digest. In China, they are affectionately known as “see you tomorrow” due to their ability to pass through the gut whole. Therefore, it is essential to chew enoki well, especially for people with digestive issues such as IBS.

Individuals who are not put off by this quirk will find enoki an excellent addition to a healthy diet. Below is a summary of enoki mushrooms’ nutritional values per 100g:

  • Calories: 37
  • Carbohydrate (by difference): 8.42g
  • Protein: 2.66g
  • Dietary fiber: 2.8g
  • Fat 0.28g

They also contain many other nutritional compounds, including ergosterol, beta-glucan, B vitamins, and numerous essential minerals.

Types of Enoki Mushroom

There are two primary enokitake types; wild and cultivated. Although they are the same species, the two varieties are practically unrecognizable as such. Here are the key differences between the two.

Wild Enoki

Wild enoki mushrooms typically grow on dead hardwood trees or logs, and they are in season from late fall to spring. They tend to grow in clusters and have tan-colored caps with darker brown, velvety stipes.

One significant issue with harvesting wild enoki is that they look similar to a poisonous mushroom, Galerina autumnalis. Furthermore, the two species often grow side-by-side, adding to the confusion.

It is essential only to harvest wild enoki (or any mushroom) if 100% sure about its identification.

One way to distinguish enoki from Galerina autumnalis is that enoki has no annulus (ring) on its stipe, whereas Galerina autumnalis does. However, the most reliable identification method is taking a spore print. Enoki spores are white, while Galerina autumnalis spores are brown.

You should only harvest wild enoki (or any mushroom) if certain about its identification. A much safer option is to purchase cultivated enoki, which are widely available in Asian grocery stores.

Cultivated Enoki

Cultivated enoki have a noticeably different appearance than wild specimens. They have long, white stipes and undeveloped white caps. The reason for this is that enoki cultivation happens in the dark. Therefore, the mushrooms grow long and thin as they stretch out, searching for light.

How to Eat Enoki Mushrooms

There are many different ways to enjoy enoki mushrooms. As a staple of Asian cuisine, one of the most popular methods is stir-frying.

It is important not to overcook enoki as they can become overly chewy. However, anybody wondering, “can you eat enoki mushrooms raw?” should exercise caution. Raw enoki contain a chemical called flammutoxin, which could potentially cause some adverse effects.

how-to-eat-enoki-mushrooms

Flammutoxin is not generally considered dangerous for oral consumption. However, eating large amounts for several consecutive days may be harmful. The good news is that heating eliminates the chemical, making well-cooked enoki perfectly safe to consume.

What Do Enoki Mushrooms Taste Like?

Enoki mushrooms taste relatively mild in comparison to some other species. They do not possess the meatiness of shiitake or portobello mushrooms, for example. Therefore, they pair well with strong flavors like soy sauce, garlic, and chili.

They also have a satisfying chewy texture, so they are a popular addition to soups and sauces.

Here are a few tips when cooking with enoki mushrooms to bring out the best texture and flavor:

  • Before cooking, cut the bottom off the mushrooms and separate them into small clumps
  • Remove any dirt by wiping with a damp cloth or rinsing quickly under running water
  • Simmer in mirin or soy sauce to create a side dish for pasta, soup, or rice
  • Alternatively, add them to savory pancakes or hot pot
  • Add enoki to warm dishes such as miso ramen or soba noodle bowls
  • Sauté the mushrooms with a little sesame oil and salt for a minute to soften them

Enoki are generally sold in plastic packaging, which isn’t ideal for mushrooms since they expel moisture. This moisture subsequently gets trapped inside the plastic, leading to spoilage.

Therefore, it is best to unwrap and use your enoki as soon as possible. If you want to store the mushrooms, keep them refrigerated in a loosely closed paper bag. Ideally, you’ll place the enoki in the refrigerator’s crisper drawer in the humid setting. Don’t store them for more than 5-7 days.

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Are Enoki Mushrooms Healthy?

Enoki mushrooms have a huge array of potential benefits. As long as you’re careful of the source, you’ll find that adding enoki to your regular diet is helpful.

However, caution is advised when purchasing enoki mushrooms as there are occasionally problems with contamination. For instance, there were recalls on enoki in several Canadian provinces in October 2021 because they were potentially contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. This is a pathogenic bacterium that causes a variety of illnesses known collectively as listeriosis.

In March 2020, four people died, and over 30 became seriously ill due to a listeria outbreak in 17 states. According to the CDC, the issue was traced to recalled enoki from Sun Hong Foods. Symptoms of listeria can include:

  • Loss of balance
  • Confusion
  • Muscle aches
  • Stiff neck
  • Convulsions
  • Miscarriage

Therefore, be careful when choosing which supermarket or online store you use when buying enoki. Stick with brands known for having outstanding records for safety and hygiene.

If the above information concerns you, there is always the option to try mushrooms such as:

You can purchase all of the above from reputable online brands such as Om Mushrooms and Freshcap. These companies sell their mushroom blends in capsule or dried powder form for easier consumption.

Bottom Line on Enoki Mushrooms

Enoki, or enokitake, are popular mushrooms in Asian cuisine. They have a unique taste and texture and a fantastic nutritional profile.

They may also provide additional benefits due to their range of biologically active compounds. For example, they appear to influence cholesterol and fat metabolism positively. However, more studies are necessary to confirm how enoki could impact human health.

Although enoki are generally safe to consume, there have been listeria outbreaks connected to these mushrooms. Therefore, make sure you only purchase them from a reputable supplier.

Have you tried enoki mushrooms? Do you have a favorite enoki recipe? Let us know in the comments below. Or learn more about the benefits of mushrooms by reading the following articles: 

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