If you love and know your mushrooms, there’s probably no need for much introduction when it comes to shiitake mushrooms. They’re extremely flavorful, a bit chewy, and meaty enough to replace meat, seafood, and fish in your dishes.
The name shiitake comes from the shii tree, since the mushrooms grow around these trees in Japan. They’re used both in fresh and dried forms, in a wide array of dishes, from salads and stir-fries to soups, sauces, and stews.
Since they’re quite unique both in flavor and texture, can shiitake mushrooms be replaced? Keep on reading to discover the best shiitake mushroom substitute!
The best substitutes for shiitake mushrooms
Shiitake mushrooms have large umbrella-like caps that vary in color, from creamy beige to dark brown, or even black. These edible mushrooms have rather thin, tough stems compared to other popular mushroom types.
Since the stems can be a bit chewy when cooked, some people prefer to remove them prior to cooking. However, if you don’t mind this kind of texture in your mushrooms, we recommend you prepare them whole.
If you prefer to use dried shiitake, they require re-hydration before using, in order to release their full flavor. You can achieve this by soaking them in near-boiling water and letting them sit in it for about 15 minutes.
For more convenience, you can also use canned shiitake mushrooms. However, keep in mind that they have to be drained, as they can release a lot of moisture in your dish, altering the texture.
When it comes to preparing fresh shiitake mushrooms before cooking, the process is quite similar with all mushroom types. Contrary to popular belief, mushrooms should not be soaked in water, no matter how dirty they are, as they will turn spongy and soggy when cooked.
Instead, you want to wipe them clean or give them a quick rinse under cool water. Also, you want to pat them dry to remove the excess moisture. If you want to avoid the chewy, sturdy stems, remove them from caps using a small, sharp knife.
Shiitake are rather meaty and fibrous, so they can be used not only as side dishes and meat replacements but as main dishes, as well. You’ll also notice that they come with a higher price, but their flavor, texture, and nutritional profile are worth the hype.
Thanks to their firm consistency, shiitake mushrooms can be used in cooked dishes such as stews and stuffings without losing their shape. They’re also delicious in stir-fries, soups, sauces, and risotto.
When it comes to their flavor profile, shiitake mushrooms are buttery, earthy, and savory. Contrary to other popular mushroom types, they provide more complexity and richness in flavor. Dried shiitake have an even stronger umami taste if you want a stronger flavor.
Even though they’re quite unique, shiitake can still be replaced, especially if you combine your ingredients well and use adequate seasoning. Take a look at the list below to find the best substitute for shiitake mushrooms.
1. Porcini mushrooms
Porcini mushrooms make for a great substitute for dried shiitake mushrooms, and they also come both in fresh and dried form. They’re quite popular in both French and Italian cuisine, and they grow naturally in pine forests.
Just like shiitake mushrooms, porcini mushrooms can be used both in side dishes and main dishes. They’re deliciously cooked, as they don’t lose much of their texture, and their flavor intensifies.
You can add porcini mushrooms in your soups, pasta sauces, as well as broths and stews since they have a prominent, rich flavor. Similarly to shiitake, they’re nutty, earthy, and savory, with a meaty, thick structure.
2. Cremini mushrooms
Cremini mushrooms belong to the same mushroom family as white button mushrooms, but they’re more mature and provide much more flavor and texture. They’re also known as Italian mushrooms, baby bella mushrooms, and brown mushrooms.
Even though they’re more mature than white button mushrooms, they’re still not fully mature. The fully mature version of white button mushrooms is known as portobello mushrooms. However, since they’re a bit aged, they are also drier.
However, even though they may lack some moisture, just like shiitake, cremini mushrooms provide a rich, deep taste. They’re slightly earthy, but also savory, and umami – which makes them a great replacement for shiitake mushroom flavor.
Just like any other mushrooms, you don’t want to soak cremini mushrooms in water, as they can become soggy. Even though they may seem dry, they are extremely buttery and chewy when cooked.
3. Portobello mushrooms
As we’ve already mentioned, portobello mushrooms are the most mature version of the white button mushrooms. The more mature the mushroom is, the more flavor and richness it offers, so portobello mushrooms are quite close to shiitake.
They have meaty, large, flat caps of dark brown color and unique dark gills beneath the caps. Since they’re so big and meaty, portobello mushrooms can be grilled, roasted, broiled, or even fried. They have a distinctive earthy, smoked aroma that pairs well with meat.
When shopping for portobello mushrooms, you want to look for firm, smooth caps that indicate that the mushrooms are fresh. In case you come across a wrinkly, dried batch, it could come out too chewy and fibrous when cooked.
4. Oyster mushrooms
Oyster mushrooms are a great replacement for shiitake mushrooms since they’re meaty, chewy, and savory. These mushrooms may not be as popular, but they certainly deserve more recognition – especially in vegan and vegetarian dishes.
Oyster mushrooms come in a couple of varieties, including pearl oysters, which are tender and small, and they often come in bulks. There’s also the king oyster, which has hearty, thick stems, and small, flat caps.
The king oyster is actually the meatier option you can easily throw on a grill. However, keep in mind that oyster mushrooms have a rather mild flavor, and they don’t provide that umami, earthy flavor that shiitake have.
5. Maitake mushrooms
Also known as hen-of-the-woods, ram’s head, or sheep’s head, maitake mushrooms are very delicate, and they grow in bulks. They resemble bouquets and are commonly found at the very base of the oak trees.
Maitake actually translates to “dancing mushroom” in Japanese, since the legend has it that people would dance around them overwhelmed with joy when they found them in nature. Maitake mushrooms are quite popular in Asian cooking, just like shiitake.
They may not be the most adequate shiitake mushroom replacement if you’re looking for a meaty, hearty mushroom for a stew or stir-fry. However, as delicate as they are, maitake can be fried, pan-fried, or tossed into sauces, omelets, or side dishes.
When it comes to flavor, maitake mushrooms are quite similar to shiitake, but they’re a bit more delicate. They’re also earthy, savory, and they sometimes come with a hint of spiciness.
6. Lobster mushrooms
Lobster mushrooms are easily distinguished thanks to their vibrant orange color. Their entire surface is bright orange, of hard texture, covered in tiny dots. While they may not be as appealing physically, the flavors speak for themselves.
Lobster mushrooms are wild forest mushrooms, so they may not be as easy to find. However, if you manage to get your hands on a batch, make sure to give them a shot, as they have such a unique flavor and texture.
At first, they may appear as a strange, unappealing lump. However, when you open them, you’ll notice that they have a crisp, bright white inside, resembling lobster meat. Lobster mushrooms are meaty, hearty, and rather brittle.
7. Enoki mushrooms
If you want to add a crunchy bite to your dishes, or you’re simply looking for more meatiness and texture, stay away from this shiitake mushroom substitute. On the other hand, if your focus is on flavor rather than the texture – you’re in the right place.
Enoki mushrooms grow in the form of long, thin strings, resembling noodles. They’re quite popular in both Japanese and Chinese cooking, where they’re used in stir-fries, sauteed dishes, or raw in salads.
Since they’re so delicate, enoki mushrooms don’t require much cooking. Cooking them for a single minute over medium heat is more than enough if you’re not serving them raw.
How to choose a shiitake mushroom substitute
While shiitake are quite unique both in flavor, texture, and color, there are some pretty good alternatives you can rely on. We’ve included both close dupes, and options that may not be as identical, but can still contribute to your mushroom dish.
Porcini, cremini, portobello, and maitake mushrooms all have that chewy, gummy texture of the shiitake mushrooms. They’re also earthy, nutty, and provide a certain level of umami – especially the portobello mushrooms which are most matured out of all three.
With oyster mushrooms, you’re getting that tough, fibrous texture, but the flavor is quite neutral, so you may have to enhance it with seasoning. Enoki mushrooms, on the other hand, have no texture, but the flavor is quite unique.
Finally, if you’re lucky enough, you’ll come across wild lobster mushrooms, which may not be as appealing to the eye, but their flavor profile and crisp, brittle texture are unmatched.