Increasingly popping up on restaurant menus and the labels of all sorts of wellness product, the maitake mushroom appears to be the fungi of the moment. But what is this fungi, and just how good for you is it really?
Of all the veggies, mushrooms have got to be up there with the most opinion-splitting of them all. In fact, they’re a little like Marmite: some people love them, others think they taste like feet. But like them or loathe them, they’re a nutrient dense addition to a balanced diet, providing a raft of vitamins and minerals including vitamin B6, magnesium, zinc and potassium. But with literally thousands of varieties out there – closed cup, button, shiitake, portobello, to name a few – each boasting their own unique qualities, it can sometimes be hard to get to grips with the facts on the fungi.
Among those gaining ever more attention is the maitake mushroom, an adaptogenic
variety that’s increasingly popping up on restaurant menus, as well as being added to all sorts of wellness products. Among those who have seen the magic in it is Swisse Me
whose vegan protein balls come in Cacao Hazelnut, Cinnamon Almond, Raspberry Chia and Matcha Cacao flavours and all contain this mushroom. So, what’s so special about the maitake?
What are maitake mushrooms?
Maitake mushrooms are a type of fungi that grow around the base of trees in established forests, with dying oak trees or their stumps a prime place to find them, particularly in the autumn months.
In the UK, you’ll often see it described on packets or in menus as ‘hen-of-the-wood mushroom’, although the Japanese word ‘maitake’ actually means “dancing mushroom”, which we think is far more cute!
Do maitake mushrooms have health properties?
Maitake mushrooms have long been celebrated in various countries in Asia for their medicinal properties, and recent research is proving that the belief holds weight, with evidence to suggest that they can have a beneficial effect on all kinds of health considerations, including vitamin-D deficiency, diabetes and cancer.
Multiple studies have confirmed that the maitake mushroom may hold antidiabetic potential (1), but in 2002 a study went further than this, declaring that – while more research needs to be done – they may represent a “natural alternative” to pharmaceuticals, adding them to a list of natural products that display “the ability to overcome, at least to some extent, insulin resistance” (2). Of course, any
changes to treatments should always be discussed with your doctor prior to making a shift.
Cancer fighting properties
One study carried out on mice examined the effectiveness of maitake D-fraction, the bioactive extract of maitake mushroom, finding that: “Maitake D-fraction is effective against such cancers of the breast, lung, liver, prostate and brain” (3), slowing both the development of tumours and metastasis. Interestingly, the study also added that “unlike many other mushroom extracts that have to be injected intravenously, Maitake D-fraction has a strong ability to inhibit tumor growth when given orally as well.”
Vitamin D is your weapon regulating the amount of calcium and phosphate it contains, the two nutrients key to keeping bones, teeth and muscles in tip top shape. During the summer (2020-lockdown aside) you shouldn’t have too much trouble in meeting your body’s Vitamin D requirement from sunlight, but during the winter months as you spend more time inside, it can become trickier, with the NHS recommending that adults supplement by 10 micrograms per day during this period (4).
While food sources such as oily fish, liver, egg yolks and red meat offer additional sources of vitamin D, for those following a vegan diet, these aren’t really options. Impressively, however, multiple studies have shown the efficacy of mushrooms in providing vitamin D, with maitake listed as having shown “shown to provide significantly more vitamin D2 than other varieties” (5).
Of course, one food alone isn’t going to revolutionise your health, so you’ll still need to maintain a balanced diet, but with evidence like this there’s certainly a good argument for incorporating them.
How to cook maitake mushrooms
With a more feathery texture than your usual button mushroom, and a smoky, earthy taste, maitake mushrooms make for a great central ingredient in stir fries, pizzas and pasta dishes – or even seared and served in place of steak!
If you’re not a fan of the fungi, fear not – there’s plenty of other ways to get your fix. Swisse Me’s protein balls are boosted with maitake – as well as nut butters, hemp and brown rice protein – and, fortunately, taste nothing like mushroom!
Swisse Me’s protein balls are available in 4 delicious flavours, you can try them all out with their Protein Balls Variety Pack
. For more information, and to discover more Swisse Me products, visit their website or Instagram.
- Kubo K, Aoki H, Nanba H. Anti‐diabetic activity in the fruit body of Grifola frondosa(Maitake). Biol Pharm Bull 1994; 17: 1106– 1110
- Manohar, V., Talpur, N.A., Echard, B.W., Lieberman, S. and Preuss, H.G. (2002), Effects of a water‐soluble extract of maitake mushroom on circulating glucose/insulin concentrations in KK mice. Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism, 4: 43-48. doi:10.1046/j.1463-1326.2002.00180.x
- Nanba H. Activity of Maitake d‐fraction to inhibit carcinogenesis and metastasis. Ann NY Acad Sci 1995; 768: 243– 245