Known as the “dancing mushroom,” maitake has been used for centuries in Eastern medicine but is now gaining popularity worldwide. Packed with nutrients, maitake mushrooms have impressive benefits for health. Read on to learn all about maitake mushrooms and how to use them.
What are Maitake Mushrooms?
Maitake mushrooms (Grifola frondosa) grow wild across North America, Asia, and Europe at the base of oak trees. Maitake translates to “dancing mushroom” in Japanese, named for clusters that look like dancing butterflies.
These culinary-medicinal mushrooms have fans, pores, and overlapping caps. Unopened, they resemble a flower head. When harvested, maitake weighs between 50 to 150 pounds. It has a faint anise-like aroma and earthy flavor.
In traditional Chinese and Japanese medicine, maitake treats conditions from cancer to infertility. Modern research now backs up many of maitake’s ancient uses.
Key Nutrients and Compounds
Maitake provides a nutrient boost unlike any vegetable. Just a 1-cup serving delivers:
- Vitamin D – crucial for bone and immune health
- B complex vitamins – support energy metabolism and brain function
- Potassium – regulates fluid balance and nerve signals
- Magnesium – aids muscle and nerve function
- Niacin – converts food into energy
- Riboflavin – supports growth and red blood cell production
- Manganese and copper – boost enzyme function and immunity
Maitake is low carb but high in protein for building and repairing muscles and tissues. It also contains unique immune-enhancing polysaccharides:
- Beta-glucans – activate immune cells against infections and cancer
- Proteoglycans – make immune cells more resilient to stress
- Glycoproteins – rev up the production of immune cells and proteins
This impressive nutrient and compound profile gives maitake mushrooms their health superpowers.
Health Benefits of Maitake Mushrooms
Science shows maitake mushrooms have benefits against chronic diseases thanks to their nutrients, antioxidants, and ability to enhance immunity.
1. Stimulates the Immune System
The beta-glucans in maitake enhance immune response against bacteria, viruses and cancer cells. Studies confirm maitake boosts:
- Macrophage activity – these immune cells engulf and destroy pathogens
- Natural killer (NK) cell activity – NK cells target virally infected and cancer cells
- T-cell and B-cell activity – specialized immune cells that create antibodies
This immune-enhancing ability makes maitake a popular supplement during cancer treatment. But it can also help prevent and reduce duration of common illnesses like colds and flu.
2. Fights Cancer Growth
Maitake shows particular promise against breast, lung, prostate and liver cancers. Research indicates maitake:
- Blocks tumor growth by inhibiting angiogenesis (new blood vessel formation in tumors)
- Induces cancer cell death through apoptosis (programmed cell death)
- Increases cancer cell sensitivity to chemotherapy treatment
- Reduces metastasis by inhibiting cell migration factors
The immune activation from maitake’s beta-glucans creates a double attack against cancer, making it an appealing supplement for cancer patients.
3. Manages Blood Sugar Levels
Animal and human studies demonstrate maitake’s ability to regulate insulin and blood sugar levels. Specific findings show maitake can:
- Increase insulin sensitivity in fat cells
- Stimulate insulin production and inhibit insulin resistance
- Lower blood glucose levels after meals
- Improve hemoglobin A1C levels, a marker of long-term blood glucose control
Through these mechanisms, maitake shows promise as a therapeutic food for managing diabetes and metabolic health.
4. Promotes Heart Health
The potent antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds in maitake support cardiovascular function. Research confirms maitake:
- Lowers cholesterol, triglycerides and LDL (bad) cholesterol
- Raises HDL (good) cholesterol
- Reduces plaque buildup in arteries
- Prevents platelet aggregation to thin blood
- Lowers blood pressure
- Improves circulation
This heart-protective activity significantly reduces risk factors for atherosclerosis, heart attacks and stroke.
5. Supports Weight Loss
Obesity alters immune function and worsens inflammation. Maitake mushrooms can aid weight loss through several mechanisms:
- Increasing insulin sensitivity helps regulate fat storage
- Supporting metabolic function promotes calorie burning
- The high fiber content increases satiety after meals
- Immune enhancement reduces inflammation linked to obesity
- Blood sugar regulation lowers risk for fat accumulation
While not a quick fix, maitake as part of an overall healthy lifestyle can support lasting weight loss success.
Ways to Use Maitake Mushrooms
Maitake has a bold earthy flavor that adds depth to dishes. Its versatile texture works well in:
- Soups – Add chopped or whole maitake to bone, vegetable or miso-based soups.
- Sautéed – Sauté maitake slices in butter or olive oil until browned. Season with garlic, herbs and salt.
- Grilled – Brush maitake caps with oil and grill 3-5 minutes until charred. Sprinkle with seasoning.
- Roasted – Toss maitake chunks with oil. Roast at 400°F for 15 minutes until crispy.
- Simmered – Add maitake slices to stir fries, curries, and noodle bowls last, just until tender.
- Powdered – Mill dried maitake into powder to add to dips, dressings, smoothies and baked goods.
Enjoy maitake mushrooms as a side dish or incorporate into main dishes for a health and flavor boost.
Choosing and Storing Maitake
Look for maitake mushrooms that are:
- Firm and plump with tightly curled caps
- Moist with minimal drying at the edges
- Avoids signs of moisture loss like shriveling
- Creamy white or light brown cap color
Store fresh Maitake refrigerated in a paper bag. Use within 7-10 days. Dried Maitake will keep up to one year.
|Probiotic Strain||Key Benefits|
|Lactobacillus rhamnosus||Treats IBS symptoms, diarrhea, vaginal health|
|Bifidobacterium lactis||Reduces bloating, constipation|
|Lactobacillus reuteri||Vaginal health, urinary tract infections|
|Lactobacillus acidophilus||Treats bacterial vaginosis, yeast infections|
|Bifidobacterium bifidum||Eases IBS symptoms like bloating and pain|
With its robust medicinal properties, maitake can be a wise addition to any diet. Follow proper selection and storage methods to enjoy maitake’s immune-boosting advantages.
Is Maitake Right for You?
Always consult your doctor before significantly changing your diet. But maitake mushrooms are considered safe for most people when used occasionally in normal food amounts.
Some precautions include:
- Blood pressure medications – Maitake may enhance drug effects
- Immunosuppressants – Avoid maitake if taking immunosuppressing drugs
- Surgery – Stop maitake at least 2 weeks before surgery as it may affect bleeding
- Pregnancy/breastfeeding – Not enough data exists on maitake safety
Otherwise, most people can reap benefits from incorporating maitake into a balanced, whole food diet. Let this “dancing mushroom” bring its healthful dance to you!