Following on from my ‘brain food’ post yesterday (plant-based foods that are particularly good for the old grey matter) I wanted to share one more with you – mushrooms. According to an article on the BBC website this week, a research study suggests that people who eat mushrooms more than twice a week have less age-related cognitive decline that those who didn’t. This means they performed better on memory and recall tests, good news for mushroom lovers!
The study was small and the research cannot make a direct cause and effect link (so hard to do as there are so many other factors to take into account). However, it does suggest there is something in mushrooms that can benefit the brain. As with all fresh produce, mushrooms contain a whole array of micronutrients and phytonutrients. In fact, mushrooms as medicine is a huge area of research at the moment.
Now of course mushrooms are fungi rather than plant, but they still have a wide range of nutrients that work together as a team. Researchers have identified one particular phytonutrient – ergothioneine – that could be particularly beneficial. It’s a powerful anti-oxidant and has strong anti-inflammatory properties. Match that with vitamin D, zinc and B vitamins that are also found in fungi and it’s easy to see how they might well benefit our brains.
It’s worth knowing that mushrooms get their vitamin D from the sunlight, the same as we do, so they only have good amounts if exposed to the sun or UVB light. Most commercially grown mushrooms are kept in the dark, so if you get the chance look out for wild mushrooms or check to see if they have had any UVB exposure. Another alternative is sun-dried mushrooms – check out this interesting article to find out how you can up the vitamin D levels at home.
Sadly, many people are intolerant to mushrooms, sometimes because of a yeast overgrowth, a mould allergy or a distaste for the texture (that horrible mushroom slime if cooked badly!). Fortunately, I’ve always been able to eat them despite having a problem with yeast – food intolerances are funny old things! If cooked correctly, they can provide wonderful flavours and textures to all sorts of plant-based dishes.
I like to try different types of mushrooms when I find them. Recently I discovered shimeji mushrooms. They have long, slender stems and neat little caps on top and can be found in Japan and Northern Europe. Their texture stays firm when cooked (and they need to be cooked not eaten raw – too bitter) with a lovely nutty taste. I’ve tried them in risotto and stir fries but my favourite so far is in a creamy pasta sauce. Sautéd with some onion and garlic, then cooked in a creamy white wine and cashew sauce they’re just delicious – and makes a super-quick dinner too.
If you can’t find shimeji mushrooms, then use chestnut or chopped portobello to get that nutty flavour, or even some shiitake or oyster mushrooms if they’re in stock.
I hope you give this simple but delicious dish a try – your brain and your taste-buds will love you for it. And if you do, let me know what you think.
Creamy mushroom pasta sauce
- 100 grams spaghetti wholewheat or brown rice
- 50 grams cashew nuts soaked in hot water for 10 minutes
- 1 medium onion finely diced
- 1 fat clove garlic finely diced
- 100 ml white wine (make sure it’s vegan)
- 100 grams shimeji mushrooms rinsed and trimmed
- salt and pepper
- large handful rocket to serve
- First bring a large pan of water to the boil and cook the spaghetti according to the packet instructions.
- Drain the cashew nuts and place in the jug of a high-speed blender. Cover with fresh water and blend until smooth.
- Whilst the spaghetti is cooking, heat a couple of tablespoons of water in a medium-sized non-stick pan and sauté the onion for 6-8 minutes until soft. Add the garlic and cook for another couple of minutes but don’t let it burn. Add the mushrooms and cook for another 5 minutes on a medium heat until they start to soften, then pour in the wine. Stir well and simmer for 2 minutes, then pour in the cashew cream and simmer for another couple of minutes, seasoning with salt and pepper.
- By now the pasta should be cooked, so drain then add to the pan and coat with the sauce.
- Serve into large pasta bowls and garnish with the rocket. Enjoy!