At WHFoods, we include crimini mushrooms as one of our 38 profiled vegetables because these mushrooms are not only found in the produce section alongside of many vegetables, but because most people have become accustomed to thinking about mushrooms as vegetables and to incorporating them alongside of vegetables in recipes. Strictly speaking, however, mushrooms are not considered vegetables because they are not considered to be plants. Instead, they are members of their own special kingdom of living things called fungi. We took a less strict and practical approach on our website when we decided to include crimini mushrooms as a featured vegetable, and our crimini mushroom recommendations are based on this approach.
Our WHFoods optimal intake level for vegetables is 10 total servings per day. Many different vegetable subgroup combinations can be used to reach this 10-serving total. Included are cruciferous vegetables, allium vegetables like garlic and onions, leguminous vegetables like green beans and green peas, and of course mushrooms, including crimini mushrooms. In our World's Healthiest Foods Meal Plan, we include approximately one cup of crimini mushrooms for the week. While we do not specify a minimum level of crimini mushrooms in our Vegetable Advisor (or anywhere on our website), we recommend inclusion of mushrooms in your total weekly vegetable servings based on their unique nutrient composition and equally unique health benefits.
As the world's most widely enjoyed mushroom varieties, button mushrooms (including crimini) make what can only be described as an outstanding contribution to human nourishment and health. Highlighting the contribution of crimini are their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.
As a fungus, crimini mushrooms are unusual in their macronutrient content. Many foods provide us with proteins and carbohydrates. But few foods provide us with the unique forms of these macronutrients that are found in crimini. In the protein category, perhaps the most unique protein component in crimini is the sulfur-containing amino acid known as ergothioneine. This amino acid is derived from the more common amino acid, histidine, and it has well-documented antioxidant benefits. In fact, not only has ergothioneine been shown to function as an antioxidant, but in animal studies it has also been shown to protect against chronic oxidative stress. Ergothioneine not only provides us with antioxidant support, but with immune support as well, since it helps protect immune cells from oxidative damage. Research studies have also confirmed the ability of our body to uptake ergothioneine following consumption of crimini mushrooms.
In the carbohydrate category, crimini also provides us with unique nourishment. Here the research has focused on two type of polysaccharides: the glucans (especially beta-glucan) and the heterogalactans (especially fucogalactan). It is the anti-inflammatory nature of these polysaccharides that has received the most research attention. The glucans and heterogalactans in crimini are known to function in an anti-inflammatory capacity by inhibiting the activity of enzymes like cyclooxygenase 2 (COX-2). They are also known to help reduce inflammatory cell signaling. In addition, the unique polysaccharides in crimini mushrooms can help to stimulate immune function, especially within our digestive tract. Macrophages—the larger-sized white blood cells that are important for many types of immunity—have been shown to undergo increased activation following intake of crimini polysaccharides. In addition, one of our first lines of defense along the linings of our body cavities (including our GI tract) is the production of secretory immunoglobulin A (SIgA). Researchers have determined that SIgA can be activated by intake of button mushrooms thanks to their polysaccharide content. In human studies, approximately one cup of blanched white button mushrooms per day over a period of three weeks has been shown to increase body levels of SIgA. So as you can see, the proteins and carbs provided by crimini mushrooms go beyond the proteins and carbs found in most foods with respect to their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.
In addition to the unique macronutrient composition of these mushrooms are three key minerals provided by crimini that provide us with antioxidant protection. The first of these minerals is selenium, which is required for proper functioning of the enzyme glutathione peroxidase. Crimini are an excellent source of selenium. The other two minerals are manganese and zinc. These minerals are required for proper functioning of the enzyme superoxide dismutase. Crimini mushroom are a very good source of both minerals.
In addition to the macronutrient benefits described earlier is the extensive micronutrient support that we get from crimini mushrooms. This unique food is a ranked source of eight different vitamins and six different minerals. In the excellent category you will find the minerals copper, selenium, and phosphorus, as well as the vitamins B2, B3, and pantothenic acid. In the very good category you will find the minerals potassium, zinc, and manganese, together with vitamin B1. And in the good category you will find vitamin B6, vitamin B12, choline, and folate. What you are looking at in this list is a single 16-calorie serving of a single food that provides good, very good, or excellent amounts of 50% of all micronutrients that we analyze on our website.
With respect to vitamin B12, however, we do need to add one cautionary note. Throughout our website, we use an up-to-date and comprehensive nutrient database to help us assess the nutrient composition of our foods. Based on this data, we rank crimini mushrooms as a good source of vitamin B12. In fact, crimini mushrooms are our only ranked non-animal source of this vitamin. Despite the database values for B12, however, we believe that the jury is still out on the reliability of crimini mushrooms as a source of vitamin B12. For us, this area of research involves three types of controversy. First, vitamin B12 is not always detected in mushrooms, including crimini mushrooms. Second, when B12 is detected in mushrooms, it is usually found on the outermost portions of the mushrooms, suggesting that bacteria on the mushroom surface may have been produced the vitamin B12 rather than the mushrooms themselves. And third, the chemical structure of vitamin B12 found on some mushrooms, while based on the corrin-type ring structure that is characteristic of vitamin B12, can have important differences from the form of B12 that provides us with full vitamin benefits. You may be getting an important B12 boost from consumption of crimini mushrooms! However, you also might not be, and based on the research evidence, we do not recommend that you rely on crimini mushrooms (or other fungi) as your primary source of vitamin B12.
In order to round out our description of the broad-based nutritional support provided by crimini mushrooms, it is important to mention some additional phytonutrients provided by this unique food. Crimini provides us with numerous phenolic acids including gallic, caffeic, ferulic, coumaric, and protocetechuic acid. It also provides us with lesser amounts of flavonoids and other polyphenols. All of these phytonutrients have well-documented antioxidant properties, and they often have well-establish anti-inflammatory properties as well.
Throughout our website, we strive to provide you with health benefit information that is based on human studies involving large numbers of people who consume foods in an everyday way. For the most part, we simply do not have studies of this type to document the likely healthy benefits of crimini mushrooms for specific health problems. For the most part, health-based research on crimini mushrooms has involved animal studies or lab analysis of purified extracts or purified components. But we have seen many promising findings in these non-human studies and several small-scale human studies with encouraging outcomes as well.
Animal and lab studies on crimini mushroom powders, extracts, and isolated components have focused on two general areas of health problems: cardiovascular problems and progression of various cancer types. In the cardiovascular category, we have seen multiple studies in which consumption of mushroom extracts has improved blood fat levels, especially levels of triglycerides. In addition are a good number of studies showing blood vessel and blood cell protection from oxidation following intake of crimini mushroom powders and extracts. These findings make good sense to us, given the rich antioxidant content of this food.
In the area of cancer progression, we have seen what researchers refer to "anti-tumor" activity following consumption of mushroom extracts by rats and mice, particularly with respect to breast cancers. However, extracts from white button mushrooms have typically been analyzed in these studies, rather than extracts from brown button (crimini) mushrooms. In addition, we have seen less consistent evidence in these white button mushroom studies than found in studies of other mushroom types—for example, shiitake mushrooms. Still, it makes sense to us for crimini mushrooms to help lower cancer risk since their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits are well-documented, and risk of many cancer types is increased by chronic unwanted oxidative stress and chronic undesirable inflammation.
In the category of small-scale human studies, we were excited to see a recent study on intake of crimini mushrooms and Metabolic Syndrome. Middle-aged participants in the study consumed approximately one cup of cooked, sliced crimini (white button) mushrooms per day over a period of four months. All participants in the study had been previously diagnosed with Metabolic Syndrome. Results of the study showed that the total antioxidant capacity in the bloodstream of the participants increased, and that their level of oxidative stress (as measured by the amount of carboxymethyllysine in their blood serum) decreased. In addition, levels of ergothioneine, a sulfur-containing and antioxidant amino acid, were found to double in the participants' lab results. While many people might not want to consume this amount of crimini mushrooms on a daily basis, we suspect that less frequent consumption would also have resulted in important antioxidant benefits, although probably not as extensive as the benefits demonstrated in this study.
Crimini mushrooms are known by a variety of names, and sometimes these names can be confusing. Probably the most common generalized term that you will hear for crimini mushrooms is the term "button mushrooms" since the top portion or "cap" of these mushrooms is shaped like a hemisphere or rounded button. However, most people consider crimini mushrooms to be a special subgroup of button mushrooms, and not synonymous with all button mushrooms. Most commonly, the word "crimini" is used to designate a subgroup of the button mushrooms, and it refers to button mushroom varieties that are somewhat smaller than most white button mushrooms; more light brown/coffee/cocoa in color; and somewhat firmer as well. The crimini flavor is also typically more robust and distinct than the flavor of white button mushrooms. (We have heard the description "meaty" being used in this context.) So in terms of common usage, "crimini mushroom" refers to the same food as "brown button mushroom." Another name you might see for crimini mushroom is "baby bella" which is shorthand for "baby portabella." You might also see the word "crimini" being spelled as "cremeni," or the term "baby bella" being spelled as "baby bello." At WHFoods, we use the term "crimini mushroom" and "brown button mushroom" interchangeably, and we are not referring to all button mushrooms (include the familiar white versions) when we talk about crimini mushrooms.
Like all mushrooms, crimini belong to the fungi kingdom of living things. Fungi are different in many biological ways than plants, and we don't want to suggest otherwise on our website. However, since many people are accustomed to thinking about mushrooms as vegetables and often use mushrooms alongside of other vegetables when cooking, we have included them among our 38 WHFoods vegetables despite their proper status as a fungus.
The part of crimini mushrooms that we eat is called the fruiting body. Similar to the formation of fruits on plants, the "fruiting body" we call a mushroom develops at a later stage in the fungus' life cycle. The issue of life cycle is important for understanding crimini mushrooms because a good deal of debate exists about the most natural way for mushrooms to be cultivated. The life cycle of a crimini mushroom starts with a spore—the reproductive unit of this food that can be found on the underside (or "inner surface") of the top portion (or "cap"). Germination of a mushroom spore begins the mushroom's life cycle, and germinated mushroom spores—technically known as mycelium—are referred to as "spawn." (Spawn can be thought of as the equivalent of seeds in a plant.) After producing spawn, mushroom growers need some medium to serve as the food source that allows the spawn to continue developing into mushrooms. This medium often involves some form of a composted grain—for example, wheat, pearl millet, sorghum, or dried paddy straw from a rice paddy. These composted substances are typically referred to as the "spawn bed" and it makes sense to think about them as the "soil" for growing mushrooms. It's also worth noting that some mushroom growers use logs to grow the spawn and generally proceed by drilling holes in the logs, inoculating wood dowels with spawn, and then plugging the holes with the inoculated dowels. Unlike plants, most mushrooms do not depend on sunlight for growth and can do well in a dark environment. Instead of breathing in carbon dioxide and breathing out oxygen like plants, however, mushrooms do the reverse and need a good supply of oxygen-containing air to thrive.
In addition to the many different media on which mushroom spawn can be grown, there are many different ways of creating the spawn beds themselves. These beds may be indoor or outdoor, and may involve trays, racks, columns, or mounds. The many different options for creating a mushroom growth medium, coupled with the many different options for setting up the overall growth facility, have led to debates over the most productive, least wasteful, and most nutritious way to cultivate crimini mushrooms. We have not seen any large-scale research that shows one approach to be clearly superior to another, however, and we suspect that growers in different regions and habitats have good options for cultivation that are most suitable to those regions and habits. And in general, we think about crimini mushrooms as a very versatile life form since it can be found growing wild in many regions of the world and in fairly diverse habitats.
At the same time that we recognize the versatility of crimini mushrooms and the many different cultivation options described above, we also believe that like any food, the quality of a crimini mushroom depends on the quality of its seed and growth environment. For example, while we have not seen any large-scale research studies in this regard, we would predict that crimini mushrooms grown on composted materials that had previously been contaminated with residues of pesticides, heavy metals, or other unwanted substances would end up absorbing some of these contaminants into the brown button mushroom that we eat. For this reason, we recommend the purchase of purchase of certified organic mushrooms. While there are no specific organic standards created exclusively for regulation of mushroom production, all organic standards that have been set into place for other foods get applied to mushrooms as well. So we are confident about your ability to lower your exposure to unwanted contaminants through the purchase of crimini mushrooms in certified organic form—unless, of course, you have another way to be sure about the quality of the mushroom growing environment. (For example, you might know a local trusted mushroom grower.)
In terms of their scientific classification, crimini mushrooms belong to the Agaricus bisporus genus/species of fungi. (And within the fungi Kingdom, crimini mushrooms belong to the Agaricaceae family of fungi in the Basidiomycota Division.) In this context, we also want to note that white button mushrooms also belong to this same genus/species of fungi.
As a broad group, button mushrooms are native to many regions of the world and can still be found growing wild worldwide. However, cultivation of button mushrooms also began far back in time in many regions of the world, and especially in parts of China, India, and Japan. Today, China is the largest single producer of all mushrooms (including not only crimini but other types) with approximately 16 million metric tons of production. The United States, Netherlands, Poland, Spain, and France are also major mushroom producers, but not at the high production level in China. If all countries and all types of mushrooms are considered, global production amounts to approximately $35 billion dollars each year in terms of trade and sales. This large-scale production and import/export of button mushrooms makes them the most widely-enjoyed mushroom varieties in the world, and their popularity is reflected in their incorporation into many of the world's regional cuisines.
Within the U.S., over 500 million pounds of button mushrooms are produced each year (including both brown and white button types). In terms of sales volume, the state of Pennsylvania produces the most button mushrooms, followed by the state of California. One county in Pennsylvania—Chester County—is especially well-known for its cultivation of button mushrooms.
Look for crimini mushrooms that are firm, plump, clean and light brown (or coffee or cocoa) in color. Those that are wrinkled or have wet slimy spots should be avoided. If your recipe calls for caps only, choose mushrooms that have short stems to avoid waste. Fresh and dried brown button mushrooms are typically available throughout the year.
At WHFoods, we encourage the purchase of certified organically grown foods, and crimini mushrooms are no exception. Repeated research studies on organic foods as a group show that your likelihood of exposure to contaminants such as pesticides and heavy metals can be greatly reduced through the purchased of certified organic foods, including crimini mushrooms. In many cases, you may be able to find a local organic grower who sells crimini mushroom but has not applied for formal organic certification either through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) or through a state agency. (Examples of states offering state-certified organic foods include California, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington.) However, if you are shopping in a large supermarket, your most reliable source of organically grown crimini mushrooms is very likely to be crimini mushrooms that display the USDA organic logo.
The best way to store loose button mushrooms is to keep them in the refrigerator in a loosely closed paper bag wrapped in a damp cloth or laid out in a glass dish that is covered with a moist cloth. Whether you use a paper bag, a damp cloth, or a glass dish, it's worth avoiding all storage methods that leave the mushrooms stacked in one big clump. The less surface contact they have with one another the fresher they will stay. A great step to avoid clumping is to make a first layer of mushrooms inside your paper bag or on top of your damp cloth or glass dish, and then cover this mushroom layer with a paper towel. A second layer of mushrooms can then be placed on top of the paper towel. These storage methods will help preserve the mushrooms' moisture without causing them to become soggy and keep them fresh for several days. Once mushrooms have developed a slimy layer across their surface, they are not longer fully fresh.
Mushrooms that are purchased prepackaged can usually be stored in the refrigerator for 3-7 days. However, to maximize freshness, we recommend removal from the original container and storage according to one of the methods described above. Also, we recommend that you begin refrigeration of your mushrooms as soon as you have brought them back home from the supermarket.
Dried mushrooms should be stored in a tightly sealed container in either the refrigerator or freezer, where they will stay fresh for six months to one year.
If you'd like even more recipes and ways to prepare crimini mushrooms the Nutrient-Rich Way, you may want to explore The World's Healthiest Foods book.
Mushrooms, Crimini, raw
GI: very low
|vitamin B2||0.35 mg||27||30.6||excellent|
|pantothenic acid||1.08 mg||22||24.5||excellent|
|vitamin B3||2.74 mg||17||19.5||excellent|
|zinc||0.79 mg||7||8.2||very good|
|potassium||322.56 mg||7||7.8||very good|
|vitamin B1||0.07 mg||6||6.6||very good|
|vitamin B6||0.08 mg||5||5.3||good|
|vitamin B12||0.07 mcg||3||3.3||good|
Density>=7.6 AND DRI/DV>=10%
Density>=3.4 AND DRI/DV>=5%
Density>=1.5 AND DRI/DV>=2.5%