While shopping at the local farmer’s market, I needed mushrooms for a stir fry. Shiitake was my first choice until I saw the prices. For one meal, I would need about $15-$20 worth of shiitake mushrooms! Why are shiitake so much more expensive than other mushrooms?
Shiitake mushrooms are expensive because of supply and demand. The demand for shiitake mushrooms has been steadily rising, while the supply has had a hard time keeping up. Shiitake mushrooms are notoriously difficult to cultivate on a commercial scale.
I needed to understand why shiitake demand and supply, what alternatives I could use in recipes, and if I could begin growing shiitakes to have my own supply. Read on to see what I learned.
Shiitake supply and demand
First, what makes shiitake mushrooms so different than other varieties? Shiitake is a white-rot fungus, which basically means that they grow on wood. If you have ever disturbed wood chips or a log before you may have seen a white-rot fungus. Their mycelium (root-like structures) look like white spiderwebs spreading across the wood.
There are two main ways to grow shiitake mushrooms. The first method is through log inoculation. While this process is a little less technical than the following method, it is still labor-intensive and seasonal.
Farmers who produce using only logs have difficulty making enough to break even each year; this makes growing mushrooms this way more a hobby than a main occupation. Log inoculation can take a whole year to start fruiting which makes the delay costly for a start-up business.
The second method, growing indoors on sawdust, helps overcome the seasonal problem, but requires much more technical skill. In addition, the set-up costs are much higher. These farmers need to combat contamination constantly, and so need a rigorously clean space to grow the mushrooms. The learning curve is very high and can sometimes be unforgiving.
With either of these shiitake cultivation methods, growers need to not only produce a lot of mushrooms consistently, but they need to brand, market, and distribute their products. While growers struggle with supply, the demand continues to rise for shiitakes.
Now that we know shiitake prices are high due to challenging cultivation and increasing popularity, let us dig in and find out where we can get these precious mushrooms.
Where can I get shiitake mushrooms?
Can I forage shiitake mushrooms?
Unfortunately for mushroom enthusiasts in most of the world, shiitake mushrooms grow naturally in Asia. This can be a bit of a letdown for those wanting to forage shiitakes in other parts of the world. Wild shiitake scarcity is another reason why they can be a bit on the pricier side.
However, this doesn’t mean that it will always be this way. Thanks to globalization, there have already been a few sightings of wild shiitake in the west coast regions of the United States. Someday soon, we will be able to forage for wild shiitake in the US or Europe. Hopefully, this will make the delicious mushroom more widely available and lower the prices.
Where can I buy shiitake mushrooms?
There are a lot of places where you can look to source your shiitake mushrooms. If you would like to try fresh mushrooms, you can try to find some at your local farmer’s market. It’s not always guaranteed that they will have any, but it is nice to try to support your local farmers and get the freshest produce possible.
If your local farmer’s market fails you, you can always try your local supermarket. Since shiitake mushrooms have become so popular, some supermarkets have made them available. This is usually the easiest and fastest option.
If you can’t find them at your local supermarket, look on the internet. You can find a lot of mushroom growers online. All you need to do is search “buy fresh shiitake mushrooms” and several options pop up for you to choose from. The only problem with this option is that you will be paying to ship on top of the normal price, which can be kind of a bummer.
One way to save some money but still use shiitake mushrooms in your recipes is to buy them dehydrated. You can find dehydrated shiitake mushrooms online, but in addition, you can find them at your local Asian market. If you find great prices on shiitakes you can also dehydrate them to preserve them for later use. Check out my related article that covers dehydrating shiitake.
Can I grow them?
Yes, you can grow your own fresh shiitake mushrooms to use in your recipes! It just takes a bit of research. The techniques range from basic to advanced, but they are all equally fun and exciting. Shiitake mushrooms aren’t as forgiving as other mushrooms when it comes to mistakes, so starting out with a basic grow kit is an easy way to begin growing shiitakes.
Shiitake grow kits are fun because they have a high success rate and let you see the majestic growing process of the shiitake mushroom. They are also easily shipped, so if you can’t find them locally no problem! Each grow kit generally comes with its own instructions, making the whole process very simple.
Which mushroom is similar to Shiitake mushrooms? (replacement for Shiitake mushrooms in recipes)
The oyster mushroom is another gourmet mushroom that grows more easily than shiitake mushrooms. They can be foraged in the US and are grown by most gourmet mushroom farmers. They are cheaper than shiitake and have a more subtle briny flavor. They still have a good meaty texture and soak up flavor really well, making them an excellent replacement mushroom to use in your recipes.
Porcini mushrooms are famous Italian mushrooms and can be found in hardwood forests in the US, but they are most common in Europe, specifically Italy. This mushroom’s flavor is a little bit more complex than the oyster mushroom, making it possibly a better substitution. However, their short growing season and complicated cultivation make them more expensive and difficult to find.
Portobello mushrooms are another good option to use instead of shiitake mushrooms. They are more commonly available at grocery stores than most other gourmet mushrooms, which makes sourcing portobellos a lot easier. They also have a meaty, umami flavor and are delicious in every way.
Here’s a comparison of the different culinary mushroom alternatives to shiitake with approximate costs per pound.
|Flavor and Texture
|Approximate Cost / Pound
|Delicate, umami flavor; medium texture
|White Button Mushrooms
|Mild flavor; medium texture
|Crimini (Baby Bella) Mushrooms
|Earthy flavor; firm, meaty texture
|Delicate flavor; crispy texture
|Rich flavor; meaty texture
|Mild, briny flavor; medium texture
|Maitake (Hen of the Woods)
|Woodsy flavor; wispy, firm texture
|Intense, nutty flavor; delicate texture
As consumers, we may be shocked at some mushroom varieties’ prices, but there may be a lot happening behind the scenes to justify costs. While shiitake mushrooms are delicious and great to use in recipes, their cultivation can be labor-intensive, technical, and even unprofitable causing their prices to be higher than other mushrooms. However, there are plenty of alternatives out there to try such as portobello or oyster mushrooms. No matter which one you choose, whether it be shiitake, oyster, porcini, or portobello, enjoy cooking with mushrooms!