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What is Shimeji?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Shimeji is a term used to refer to a group of mushrooms with similar flavor profiles used in Japanese cuisine. These mushrooms are native to East Asia and they can also be found in some parts of Europe. Shimeji mushrooms are often available from Asian grocery stores in both fresh and dried form, and they can sometimes be purchased at supermarkets. They are also sometimes known as beech mushrooms, a reference to the substrate that some types of shimeji prefer.

These mushrooms are white to creamy brown in color, growing in clusters with small, rounded, tight caps. The highly prized hon-shimeji mushroom is difficult to cultivate because it is a mycorrhizal fungus that grows in a symbiotic relationship with plants, while buna-shimeji mushrooms grow on decaying organic material and are relatively easy to grow.

When raw, these mushrooms have a bitter flavor. Once cooked, they develop a richy, nutty flavor and they will remain crunchy if lightly cooked. They are rich in the flavor known as “umami” in Japanese cuisine. “Umami” is often translated as “savory” and it is difficult to describe, although it can be found in a number of different foods and is likened to a hearty, meaty flavor. Shimeji mushrooms can be used in soups, stews, stir fries, and a wide variety of other dishes as an accent or feature ingredient, depending on the tastes of the cook.

If cooks are using fresh mushrooms, it is advisable to gently brush and rinse them before use to remove soil. The mushrooms should be lightly cooked to retain their crunchiness while taking the edge off their bitter flavor. Dried mushrooms usually need to be rehydrated for use. The easiest way to rehydrate mushrooms is to cover them in a layer of boiling water. The mushrooms will swell as they take on water and then they can be drained and used. If the water is reserved, it can be used as a flavoring and to deglaze pans.

If a recipe calls for shimeji mushrooms and none are available, cooks can use oyster mushrooms as a substitute or experiment with other mushroom varieties that are known for having a savory, slightly nutty flavor. It is often possible to order shimeji online through companies that supply Japanese ingredients. Prices vary depending on the company, the season, and whether the mushrooms are being sold fresh or dried. Bulk pricing is sometimes available and cooks may want to consider placing a group order with friends.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon359806 — On Dec 20, 2013

I first tried Buna Shimeji because they were reduced at my local supermarket. I used them in a Tang Mein, and found them to be absolutely delicious. Then I got to thinking, what if... Anyway, to cut a long story short, try them in a chicken and mushroom or steak and mushroom pie. The flavor is out of this world!

By LisaLou — On Sep 30, 2011

We had a foreign exchange student from Japan staying with us for a summer. She really missed eating and cooking with shimeji mushrooms and said that she can find them all year long at her home in Japan.

I also was able to find these at a local Asian market - among with several other things that she was missing. She was really excited and taught me how to prepare and use them correctly.

Like most mushrooms, they seemed a little fragile at first and I didn't want them to fall apart when I cleaned them.

I like them best when they are included in a stir fry with fresh vegetables. They add just the right amount of flavor along with some onion, garlic and a little bit of good soy sauce.

By myharley — On Sep 29, 2011

I am usually able to pick up some shimeji mushrooms at an Asian market in my city. I have a very simple Japanese noodle recipe that I like to use them in.

I love using these mushrooms because I love the slightly nutty flavor and crunchy texture they add to the recipe. As long as they are cooked right, they add this kind of flavor and texture to anything you use them for.

There have been times when these mushrooms were not available and I would substitute shitake mushrooms instead. If you didn't know the difference in mushrooms, you would never realize it, but I really miss them if they aren't available.

By ddljohn — On Sep 29, 2011

@Monika-- I used to do that too! I had this theory that every mushroom is the same and tastes the same and felt like I was wasting money if I picked up a different kind of mushroom that was more pricey. But I was so wrong! Every mushroom doesn't taste the same, they have different flavors. Some are nuttier than others, some are more bitter, more softer or crunchier.

After I had shimeji mushrooms in a Malaysian restaurant, I realized that these variations exist and the cost of certain mushrooms is definitely worth it.

I think you should definitely give shimeji a chance, I don't think you'll regret it.

By SteamLouis — On Sep 29, 2011

@ysmina-- Yea, they are really interesting aren't they? I had the chance to cook with these mushrooms when I took a Japanese cooking course. They were so easy to cook with and tasted great. I think their size is a real advantage too because you don't have to cut them, you can just snap them apart with your fingers and they look so nice with other ingredients.

I did find that they were a bit difficult to clean because I was a bit paranoid about dirt being stuck in the clusters. I finally had to snap apart each single mushroom and wash them in vinegar water.

It was totally worth the effort though, I'm so happy that I had the opportunity to discover these little gems. My cooking instructor also said that hon shimeji are very nutritious as they contain B vitamins, potassium, iron and vitamin D. I can't wait to cook with them again!

By ysmina — On Sep 28, 2011

These mushrooms always grab my attention whenever I'm at the Asian grocery store. They are tiny white mushrooms that are sold in clusters. I think they are the coolest looking mushrooms I've ever seen. I've never bought any because I don't really know any recipes with mushrooms, but they do always intrigue me and I always stop to look at them.

I love Asian noodles and snack foods and usually go to the Asian grocery store for them. It's also nice to just look around and discover new foods. Being at an Asian grocery store, you can tell what a vast variety of vegetables, fruits and meat Asian cuisine utilizes. Shimeji is just one example of these foods. I'm so impressed with them.

By Monika — On Sep 28, 2011

@ceilingcat - I like to cook with mushrooms too. However, I must admit I'm not very adventurous. Even when a recipe calls for a different kind of mushroom, I always just use portabello mushrooms and call it a day.

After reading this article though, it seems like all mushrooms aren't the same. Maybe I should branch out and try some shimeji next time.

By ceilingcat — On Sep 27, 2011

You know, I always skip past the dried mushrooms at the store. I guess I never realized that they were so easy to just rehydrate and use! I'm sure dried mushrooms also keep a lot longer than buying fresh mushrooms. Maybe I'll give them a chance!

But anyway, I'm glad to know you can substitute oyster mushrooms for shimeji. I was looking to make a recipe that calls for this mushroom, but I can't find anywhere near me that carries it. However, I see oyster mushrooms all the time.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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