With a savory, rich flavor, mushrooms can give meals the hearty flavor you may be craving—especially when you first give up meat. Using some clever techniques, you can add them to your diet in a way that very much mimics the taste and texture of ground beef.
Before we get too far, let’s make one thing clear: Mushrooms are not a meat substitute. While they’re a good source of certain nutrients like riboflavin, selenium, and potassium, they’re also very low in calorie, protein, and iron—three things that meat excels at providing to the diet. No worries, though! Substituting mushrooms for ground meat is a flavor decision—plenty of other plant-based foods can add the nutrients you need (for instance, adding some garbanzo beans or toasted walnuts to your pasta with mushroom “meat” sauce can help bridge the gap).
Now, back to these fun guys (Get it? Fungi?!). Using chopped mushrooms in recipes can help you cut back on chopped meat—or eliminate it all together. One study (funded by The Mushroom Council) found that when people were presented with taco “meat” in proportions ranging from 100% beef to 20% beef and 80% mushroom, they actually preferred the fifty-fifty beef/mushroom mixture. And this was not people who were trying to eat less meat—they just liked the way it tasted.
Mushrooms ranging from the standard white buttons to portabellas to cremini to oyster have an “umami”—savory—flavor that comes from the compound glutamate. That gives meals a level of satisfaction that some find can be hard to recreate in plant-powered meals. And the bite that chopped, cooked mushrooms have can give meals some of the same texture that you may expect in foods like chili and lasagna.
To explore the power of mushrooms, check out this pretty simple mushroom meat recipe you can use in any recipe that calls for ground beef, or this more complicated (but delicious) mushroom Bolognese recipe from Serious Eats.
Have you had success experimenting with ground mushrooms in typically meat-containing recipes? What’s your favorite way to use them?