Divine mushroom, mushroom of immortality, the fungus of long and vibrant life, and the crowning glory. These are just some of the names given to what is possibly the most famous of all Asian medicinal mushrooms – reishi, also known as ling zhi.
Reishi mushrooms have been used for many centuries in Traditional Chinese Medicine. According to modern research, this medicinal mushroom has been found to possess some incredible therapeutic properties. Looking to take advantage of all the benefits offered up by this incredibly powerful food and wondering about the taste? Let’s take a closer look at the flavour of this fantastic fungus and why it matters.
Unlike other mushrooms commonly used in cooking—like cremini, portabella, and shiitake—reishi has a distinctive earthy, bitter flavour. Though you might think that reishi doesn’t offer the savoury punch you need for your next gourmand experience, bitter is exactly what you should be looking for in quality reishi. Otherwise, you might not be getting a high enough potency mushroom. So, if you want to enjoy all the wonderful benefits reishi provides, bitter is better.
Nature has used bitter to help signal either poison or medicine, and it is one of the more complex flavours we recognize. Further, scientists have discovered that we have genetic differences in how much we can taste and how the taste is interpreted by our brains. When I prescribe concentrated Chinese herbal powders to be mixed in hot water, I know that I have to let my patients know that they may initially curse me for the bitter concoction that they have to drink. But they usually find that they get used to the flavour and may even begin to like it, especially as they feel better. The same can apply for reishi.
Of course, you can just keep the reishi powder in its capsule and easily gulp it back without tasting it, but if you’re looking for ways to incorporate it into your food, read on.
Add Reishi to Your Recipes
Feel free to experiment with reishi in your favourite dishes. One way to help manage the bitter is to counterbalance it with something sweet or help neutralize it with salty flavours.
For something sweet, you could make your own no-cook protein bars using dates. You could also add it to your hot chocolate, brownies, or banana bread recipe.
By adding more salty or savory ingredients to your reishi-included dish, you can help to alleviate the bitter aftertaste. Tapioca, seaweed, soy sauce, or salt can be great additions! You can add reishi mushrooms to a wide variety of dishes, from soup and stews to chili and roasts.
While we may have become accustomed to thinking that sweet and salty are the only flavours to receive top billing for cravings, there are actually many bitter foods we truly enjoy. Coffee, chocolate, alcohol, matcha, and tea are some of the more popular bitter foods, so some people choose to simply add reishi to those already bitter foods.
Here is one recipe to get you started.
No-Cook Reishi Protein Balls
- 2 cups cashews (you can substitute in peanuts, almonds, or other nuts)
- ¼ cup ground or milled flax (optional)
- ¼ cup raw cacao powder
- 3-6 high quality reishi extract capsules
- 1 cup pitted dates
- 1 Tbsp vanilla extract
- ¼ – 2/3 cups water
- Put cashews into a food processor and blend into a flour/powder.
- Add ground flax and 2 Tbsp cacao powder.
- Open reishi capsules and add in powder. Choose the number of capsules based on how much reishi kick you want.
- Pulse until mixed.
- Add in dates, vanilla extract, and ¼ cup of water and blend into a dough, adding more water, if needed. It should form a sticky “dough.”
- Roll into 1-1.5” balls and roll these in remaining cacao powder to coat them. If they are too sticky to roll, you can refrigerate them for 10 to 15 minutes before rolling.
- Store in the fridge. They can also be frozen for later consumption.
Tea or Capsules
The traditional use of reishi is to prepare it as a tea. If using whole reishi mushroom, you need to cook it for awhile, as the hard chitinous shell makes it hard to digest and access the nutrients and valuable compounds inside.
For those who find the bitter taste unpleasant or don’t want to spend the time doing all the prep work, you can opt to take reishi extract capsules instead.