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Do Shiitake Mushrooms Smell? (Answered)

After a recent farmer’s market visit I found the Shiitake mushrooms smelled slightly more pungent than prior batches. The vendor and mushroom grower assured me the Shiitake mushrooms were freshly picked and typically smell a bit more than other varieties, but I wanted to do some more research to confirm.

Fresh shiitakes do not stink but have an aroma smelling like nuts and light garlic. Because of this, shiitake mushrooms are often used in many cuisines, such as Asian, and may take on the smell of the recipe. Shiitakes have also been described as having a musty cheese or sulfur smell. However, if shiitakes smell sour, they’ve probably gone bad.

While this helped me answer my question, I still wanted to dive into why shiitakes have such a distinct smell. Here’s what I found.

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shiitake mushrooms in a strainer
Shiitake Mushrooms in a strainer

Are Shiitake Mushrooms Supposed to Stink?

Shiitake mushrooms have a far stronger aroma in dried form. You can reduce the smell by soaking them in medium-hot water for 20 minutes. Also, the older the mushroom when harvested, the stronger the smell.

Shiitake mushrooms are highly sought after in Japan, not only for their taste but also for their nutritional value—being high in Vitamin D.

At one time, they were a delicacy reserved only for the nobles. Today they are produced commercially available for the masses. However, shiitakes are still somewhat expensive, especially for locally sourced.

Their flavor is somewhat buttery and very earthy, having a silky texture. If you like porcini mushrooms, you will likely enjoy shiitakes. Some go so far as to call shiitake mushrooms the “king” of gourmet mushrooms.

The shiitake aroma does not affect the way in which they flavor foods. Rather than drown out a recipe, they support it—giving the food greater depth. 

It’s been said that shiitake mushrooms that are purchased in Asian markets are often found smell much stronger than others bought in grocery stores.

Keep in mind that when shopping for shiitake mushrooms, some companies dehydrate them partially and then vacuum seal them for shipping. According to the FDA guidelines, these mushrooms should not be sold as fresh.

As a result, it’s best to confirm freshness and packing date with your grocer or local farmer’s market source.

What Do Shiitake Mushrooms Smell Like?

The smell of shiitake mushrooms varies from person to person, but most agree that it smells similar to nuts, garlic, and a bit of sulfur.

On one hand, you have the background of a “normal” mushroom scent. And on the other, you might get a whiff of mild radish. Other people say they smell pungent, and others still say they smell of light sulfur.

When you sautee these mushrooms, no matter which aromatic profile you get from raw shiitake, their aroma intensifies.

How Do You Know if Shiitake Mushrooms Have Gone Bad?

Fresh shiitake mushrooms are good for up to ten days in the refrigerator using best practices. Some may last longer, depending on the moisture level and preservation method. Wrapping them lightly in paper towels or brown bags helps preserve them.

7 Signs it’s Time to Toss your Mushrooms

Thankfully, there are simple ways of knowing your mushrooms have gone bad. 

  1. Slimy Feeling: Even though a slimy mushroom may still be “ok” it is always better to err on the safe side. As the saying goes, when in doubt throw it out!
  2. Dark Gills: Look at the underside of the shiitake’s cap. If the gill lines appear much darker than when you first brought them home, toss it. 
  3. Shriveling: If the stem shrivels, the mushroom is no longer good to eat.
  4. Brown Spots: Dark patches or spots indicate the mushrooms have started to turn. 
  5. Two weeks or more: This is the outer limit on most fresh mushrooms, best to discard them.
  6. Putrid odor: Shiitake mushrooms have a distinct odor but if it’s intense, ammonia-like, and sour, the mushrooms should not be used. Trust your nose!
  7. Loss of bounce: When fresh, mushrooms have a bit of bounce when you press on them gently. If you leave a dent, they’re becoming bad.

5 Best Ways to Preserve Shiitake Mushrooms

1. Paper Bag

One option is to put them in a brown paper bag (like a lunch bag). The bag is porous, allowing the mushrooms to have some air. Leaving them in plastic does little good because it becomes moist on the inside and quickly introduces mold.

If the mushrooms are dried, you can keep them in the paper bag for around 9 months (a dark, cool spot is recommended).

2. Freezing

Freezing shiitake mushrooms is effective, but it’s not the ideal way to preserve them. Freezing can leave the shiitakes with an odd, rubbery texture, and it decreases their nutritional value.

However, if you do decide to freeze them, there are a few ways you can go about it.

To preserve them whole, gently clean all the dirt off the mushrooms. Lay them on a cookie tray and place them in the freezer until they are firm.

Next, transfer the frozen mushrooms to a freezer-safe food storage bag. Make sure to get out as much air as possible. When you’re ready to use the frozen shiitakes, you should put them into a cooking pan right from the freezer. Thawing before cooking will make them soggy. 

Then there’s the blanching method. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Put your shiitake mushrooms into a steam basket. Leave to steam for 4 minutes. Transfer them to an ice bath for another 4 minutes. Strain off the water and pat the mushrooms dry. As with the whole mushrooms, store them in a freezer bag (or an airtight food storage container). 

3. Refrigerator

If they’re fresh and you’re putting them in the crisper drawer, you have a 7 to 10-day window. At room temperature, you should use these within a day. The paper bag method works in the refrigerator, or you can wrap the mushrooms loosely with a paper towel.

4. Dehydrator

To dehydrate your shiitake mushrooms, begin by cleaning them and cutting them into thin slices. Make these as even as possible (if you have a mandolin, use it) so they finish drying at nearly the same time. Lay them in a single layer on a dehydrator tray making sure the edges do not touch. Any overlapping pieces retain moisture.

Set the dehydrator to 115ºF. The mushrooms should be done in about 7 hours unless you cut them more thickly. If the mushrooms bend in half, they’re not done yet. They should break like a cracker. 

When you don’t have a dehydrator you can use your oven. Just as with the dehydrator, you want even slices. Lay them on a tight mesh cooling rack. The oven should be at its lowest setting (140ºF, if possible). Leave the oven door open about 1”. Every hour, turn the rack and blot the mushrooms. 

In either method don’t be surprised to see the mushrooms shrink considerably.

Let them cool completely before moving them into storage. Glass Mason jars are a great choice for storing dried mushrooms, so long as they have a tight-fitted lid. Make sure to label the jar with the date you filled it. Dried shiitakes will last up to a year so long as you keep them in an airtight, dark, cool area.

Rehydrating the mushrooms for use is easy. Soak them for a half-hour in boiling water, making sure the mushrooms are just covered. Don’t discard the water! You can use it in a broth or sauce. 

Go one step further and make shiitake mushroom powder for cooking which is fantastic for soup or gravy. Just put your dehydrated mushrooms in a food processor.

Begin with 15-second pulses until you break up the bigger pieces. Now turn on the processor for a minute. Let it rest for a minute or you will get a face full of dust otherwise. Sift the results into a bowl, putting the larger pieces back in for further grinding. 

5. Safe Food Handling

When you go to the store, you’ll see expiration dates on most food. If you buy after that date, it doesn’t mean the food is bad. It’s simply a manufacturer’s advisory that also signals whether something is in its prime (this is often noted as the “use by” date). 

Here are some basic guidelines for safe handling of your Shiitake mushrooms:

  • Cooked and refrigerated 3-5 days
  • Dehydrated 9-12 months
  • Freezer 9-12 months
  • Room Temperature 24 hours
  • Sliced and refrigerated 4-7 days
  • Whole refrigerated 7-14 days

Final Thoughts

It’s normal for shiitake mushrooms to have a smell of nuts, garlic, and some sulfur. While there’s a range of smells people get from shiitake, if they smell rancid or appear moldy, it’s time to throw them out.

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