The Key Ingredient For Flavor-Packed Soups And Stews Is Shiitake Mushrooms. Here's Why

dried shiitake mushrooms
dried shiitake mushrooms - Miriam Hahn/Tasting Table

We all have an image of our ideal soup or stew — a warm, welcoming bowl of homey ingredients that's overflowing with big flavors. This could be a classic beef stew, a bowl of rich ramen, or a hearty lentil soup. Either way, what you want out of soup is something comforting, and ideally savory, whether it has meat in it or not. This is why one of the more underrated broths for soups and stews, mushroom, may also be the best. You've probably come across the term umami often on food sites; it's the name for the taste receptors that allow us to experience savory flavors. Well, mushrooms are some of the umami kings of the ingredient world. And within the world of mushrooms, there is one variety that stands above all others in its ability to impart deep flavor to dishes: the shiitake mushroom.

Umami can be tough to understand, since savory is more subjective than sour or sweet, but scientists actually have a measurement in mind when they use the term, and that's the amount of the amino acid glutamate. That acid is what reads as meaty when we taste it, and shiitake mushrooms are absolutely full of it. In fact, shiitakes are almost twice as flavorful as your standard button mushrooms, who are no slouches themselves. So, if you want a flavor-packed base for your soup or a booster to an already-made chicken or vegetable broth, nothing compares to shiitake mushrooms.

Read more: 13 Unexpected Ingredients To Elevate Lasagna

Shiitake Mushrooms Pack Tons Of Complex Umami Flavors Into Soups And Stews

dried shiitake mushrooms
dried shiitake mushrooms - xiaoxiao9119/Shutterstock

No matter what kind of soup or stew you are making, they all benefit from a complex layering of flavors and ingredients, and that is why shiitake mushrooms' umami power is so useful. If you're making a vegetable soup, shiitakes can bring a meaty flavor that's lacking in most vegetarian ingredients, making them that much more hearty and satisfying. But they are great for meat stews too. Rather than doubling up on beef or chicken flavor, shiitake mushrooms bring an earthy complexity to your broth. They will also intensify the existing meaty flavors, as their umami notes can boost the other tastes in your soup the same way salt or a dash of vinegar can. Even if you don't love the taste of straight-up mushrooms, just a few mushrooms can add subtle flavors that will boost your soup without making it taste like mushrooms.

Fresh shiitake mushrooms will work great in these applications, but the dried version is ideal. Besides being more affordable and widely available, dried shiitakes are even more concentrated in flavor than the already strong fresh mushrooms, so they pack a massive punch in a small package. And since they keep for months, you can pluck a few out to add to broths, or use them anytime to make an easy shiitake mushroom soup. If you love making soups and stews, there are few pantry ingredients that are so essential.

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